Operation Mincemeat (Original London Cast Recording) | Review

Edward Seckerson
Monday, August 7, 2023

The virtuosity of the writing is matched by the blistering delivery of the performers

If you caught the glossy movie dramatisation but haven’t yet seen the musical, you might be surprised to discover that the madcap insanity of the latter really isn’t such a stretch from the wartime reality. Only the Brits could have devised Operation Mincemeat in all its preposterous eccentricity and only the Brits – as in the SpitLip troupe of writer/performers – could have musicalised it with nods to so many sources as to make your head spin. Although the stranger-than-fiction tale of how a well-dressed corpse and his briefcase wrongfooted Nazi high command into abandoning its defence of Sicily doesn’t really hold water – so there’s a certain irony to the accidental drowning scenario.

It’s all about the kinetic urgency of the operation and the breathless speed of its hatching

At the heart of this cracking little show is the grand tradition of satire and farce. The tongue-twisting wit and dexterity goes all the way back to Gilbert and Sullivan’s infamous ‘patter’ songs, but then again leaps forward to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton hip hop. The musical flavour in Operation Mincemeat is equally diverse, with a collision of styles driving the show – from 1930s big-band swing and close harmony chic through Bond-like swagger to a quieter English charm and stirring folksiness.

It’s all about the kinetic urgency of the operation and the breathless speed of its hatching – and to add to that sense of eccentricity writ impossibly large, there is cross-gender casting to further muddy our perceptions. Steve Sidwell’s trumpet-flaring and sax-honking orchestrations drive the score relentlessly through all the unlikely machinations of the plot, and there is one absolutely wicked parody of German divine decadence in the pumping, leather-lederhosen discotheque strains of ‘Das Übermensch’.

The virtuosity of the writing, by David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoë Roberts, is more than matched by the blistering delivery of the performers, which includes Cumming. With a five-minute exposition like ‘Born to Lead’ dispatching so much information (or misinformation) at such speed, clarity is everything. Every verbal gag has to land, every double entendre has to hit its mark. Finding the right corpse in ‘Making a Man’ is hilarious in that regard, while ‘Just For Tonight’ sounds like ABBA on speed crossed with Fascinating Aida, and ‘Sail On, Boys’ is our hymn to heroism.

I would just say that the show really needs to be seen to be believed, and I’m not sure that even a souvenir album of this quality is going to encourage repeated listening. You need to be there. That said, I’ve just hit repeat on ‘Das Übermensch’…

Album Details

David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson, Zoë Roberts (SpitLip)
music, lyrics, book

Cast David Cumming, Claire-Marie Hall, Natasha Hodgson, Jak Malone, Zoë Roberts et al

Musical arranger/orchestrator Steve Sidwell

Band / Joe Bunker (piano)

Sony Music UK