“Operation Mincemeat” at the Fortune Theatre

Having started at the New Diorama Theatre, and developed at Southwark Playhouse, this show’s success in the West End is sure to warm the hearts of theatre lovers. A small show that has taken the town by storm is always fantastic. Apparently, Operation Mincemeat has a record number of stars from reviewers… and I’m happy to add another five.

With book, music and lyrics by David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoë Roberts, the first key to success is surely the great story. Operation Mincemeat was a military intelligence plan to misdirect Hitler during World War II that, although based on real events, is truly unbelievable. The show is action-packed and exciting but told with humour: there are some damn good jokes here.

The music and lyrics are, mostly, funny, and very, very, smart. There’s a mix of styles for fun, but the score is overall nostalgic – and cleverly so. Not that it is a period piece (if there’s a gag to be had, they go for it). While it is particularly British, the music doesn’t just remind you of the 1940s. There are nods to music hall tradition and G&S. Many of the numbers are ambitious, and I don’t think there’s a bad one here.

As to the cast, the production only has five members including Cumming, Hodgson and Roberts. Performing as the intelligence officers and their secretaries, as well as everyone else they meet, they cannot fail to impress. While the roles of Ewen Montague and Charles Cholmondley (who came up with the plan) feature most, every member of the quintet is fantastic.

There are, also, a lot of ideas. Gently at first, with many sweet jokes about Britishness – the subject of national identity comes into focus. Themes about manhood, that have been cleverly laid, come to the fore. The gags don’t stop, but a meta theatricality is used to give the show weight.

Which points towards what I like best. Yes: the score is fantastic, it’s one you want to hear again as soon as it’s over. But Operation Mincemeat still feels like a fringe show – and is all the better for it. Full of invention, wit and raw talent, its low-fi approach is hugely winning. It is a valuable addition to the West End, highlighting what’s important in theatre. Mission accomplished.

Until 15 June 2024