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Operation Mincemeat (Southwark Playhouse)

(seen at the afternoon performance on 25th January 2022)

Looks like Germany is gathering its forces in Southern Italy, just where we need to push through from Sicily and up the old boot to victory. Anyone any smart ideas to distract them, chaps?

“Operation Mincemeat” was the answer. The corpse of a pilot, briefcase full of “secret plans” cuffed to his wrist, washes up on Spanish shores. Enough to convince the Nazis that the British were heading for somewhere else entirely? How the course of the war was altered using a cunning plan worthy of Baldrick is the subject of this hugely original five-handed tuner.

Falling firmly between Mischief Theatre and “Six The Musical” in approach, this is a very ‘typical fringe’ show bursting with the vitality of its young creators and smashing almost every target it aims for. 

It’s a fermenting brew of multiple identities and gender-switching as the cast each take a variety of roles from colonel to typist, pathologist to cabaret artiste. Designer Helen Coyston gives them a tangle of telephones and many sliding filing cabinets, while Jenny Arnold’s choreography adds incongruous kick-lines and a flying sequence you have to see to believe.

The writers take playful aim at the stereotypes of the era and the show mostly hums along on the message that “Some Were Born to Follow, We Were Born to Lead.” Deliberate anachronisms are as fun as the colonel’s sudoku, feminist empowerment is the order here, and long before the term passed into common usage, the nerd becomes a badge (faked, but satisfying) of honour. A few darker moments offset the lighter ones, and a surprisingly sense of period grounds the whole thing by dint of a slightly world-weary tinge.

As the driving force, Natasha Hodgson’s piercing gaze and self-belief as Ewen Montagu are enough to make mincemeat of any operation. Is that her sole aim... don't count on it...

Zoe Roberts cuts a bluff figure as Johnny Bevan with a fine sense of timing, able to pull a new character on like a T-shirt at will and take off in an entirely new direction.

Jak Malone’s wonderful Hester Leggett gets the strongest song in the show, as “Dear Bill” is a love letter counterfeited for the occasion but full of inner meaning. The highlight of the piece and the point to which the entire production should be calibrated as it is worked on.

David Cumming is the nervous nerd with the rubber face. His misfit Charles Cholmondeley is expressive and versatile, compelling at every turn of the plot. He understands comedy’s most important skill of when to hold back before the joke is taken too far, yet deliver a line so that it hangs around for the laughs to reach a crescendo.

Claire-Marie Hall as Jean Leslie creates the perfect deception. With the perfect pen, the perfect eye and the perfect skill of blending in before unleashing considerable power, she has an enviable voice and even more enviable stage presence.

If there is work to do, it is in the second half. Noting in passing that one or two mildly tasteless outfits could go (you do need to be Mel Brooks or Rogers and Hammerstein to get away with Nazi armbands, really), the real work is how the end of the show fits together.

A tribute to “Cabaret” seems mildly incongruous and seems a little effortful as a structure to later reveal the fate of each character after the war is won. The perfect final moment is buried, and what should have been a tear-jerking tribute fails to land as such outstanding material should.

With a few other rather generic theatrical tropes at times, the whole operation may feel less distinctive than they may wish or deserve; and the plans certainly need an edit and polish before hitting the West End. Still, dammit all, it is frankly a jolly good show with plenty of life in the old dog yet. Well done, chaps.

4 stars.

Operation Mincemeat’s extended Southwark Playhouse run continues until 19th February. Tickets for are now completely sold-out, please visit to be the first to hear news about future performances from the Official Box Office. 



Thanks to Southwark Playhouse and Avalon for information and photograph. Used by kind permission.

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