Big Flash of Joy: Operation Mincemeat – The Musical

It’s been almost a week since I last saw the musical “Operation Mincemeat” and since I over-enthusiastically announced on Twitter that I’d write a blog post about it soon. But that day was followed by basically two whole travel days and then a bout of “I have no plans and nothing to do, this feels overwhelming” dread here by the beach. I really dislike my messed up mind some times.

Yesterday I’ve started reading a WW II novel “The Ops Room Girls” (part one of a trilogy, so maybe I’ll read more) and some of the atmosphere of this story reminded me of Mincemeat again. Unsurprisingly so: World War II, Women taking their chance in a world, which all of a sudden is devoid of men, because they’re off to war… For me especially one line in the novel mirrored the atmosphere of some scenes in the musical.

“If the Germans come, we’ll all be plunged into the dark. One day of sunshine and happiness out of a lifetime of misery – surely we can have that.”

The Ops Room Girls, Vicki Beeby

I guess that’s what the spirit has been at times. As it should have been. I’m a bit sad that one of my favourite songs in the show so far “Let Me Die In Velvet” had been cut for a new song: “Lets be winners for one night” (? Not sure if that’s the title.) But I have to be fair and admit, that the new song fits and especially moves the story along much better, while maintaining the same vibe as Velvet did. I’m grateful that they kept one of my many (favourite) lines in the dialogue around that scene.

The world is a mess. Small flashes of joy, it’s all any of us can hope for.

Ewen Montagu in “Operation Mincemeat”

Because that’s still so true. Decades after the war. Years after I first saw the show.

But I’m already in the thick of it without any introduction. I’m not sure this post will make sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet. Sorry for that. But I still want to gather and share my thoughts. And in that future moment – when they will have successful runs in the West End and will have won even more of the (big) awards – prove, that I’ve been a fan from the very start ;-).

Real quick: Operation Mincemeat is a brilliant, funny while also tear jerking, whirlwind of catchy musical numbers and fast paced witty dialogue; performed by five insanely talented people playing about 30 different roles among them with astonishingly few costumes / props changes and with mind blowing gender fluidity. Oh, the plot? How a few posh white men with the help of a few women at MI5 fool Hitler with a dead body and thus help the Allies win the war. True story. Yes, there’s also been a movie recently about the same story and the movie worked fine as history movie and all, but, it’s just not the same…

I’ve seen the show on it’s first run in 2019 and was already blown away and again in early 2020, when they already had made some changes to some scenes and some of the music. Here are my reviews from back then:

May 2019: Operation Mincemeat” – Absolutely Brilliant
January 2020: Musical “Operation Mincemeat” – Gets Better and Better With Every Run

And then I haven’t been able to see it for the longest time, even once the UK theatre world returned to stage, because I wasn’t comfortable travelling in 2021 yet. So that version shown at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith (till 23rd July) is “Operation Mincemeat 5.0” (maybe?). It’s still fascinating to see how the plot and performances change slightly or even to some bigger extent over time. I went back through my previous reviews and realized how many of the tiny scenes I mentioned aren’t in the show anymore, but replaced by something equally good or in many cases even better. It’s also a joy to see how the show stays true to the audacity of the whole “ludicrous secret mission to win the war” situation while at the same time manages to deepen the human aspect of it all.

On this run I especially loved to see that they gave a bit more room to the female characters and the feminist aspect of the story. It was so nice to see a bit more of Hester. The new song “Medals and Sculptures” (that’s probably not the title) was a great addition. At least I don’t remember that from the previous shows, even though the line about the planes in the sky felt slightly familiar. All in all it gave more depth to both characters and I loved that. Because let’s face it: Monty, Charles and even Johnny Bevan have been fleshed out plenty by history already. I mean, they were the men in charge. So this one between Jean and Hester was sweet to see and also a well deserved acknowledgement of the vital part women played in many aspects of winning the war. It also was great to see Claire Marie Hall and Jak Malone apply their great comedy timing here.

I also very much enjoyed the small new hints to current affairs, like “to turn this into a highly profitable film?!?!” and of course the digs at current UK politics. I’ve heard there were some extra ones the night Boris Johnson announced that he’d be resigning. The whole “the Nazis left Germany, but don’t worry, they are now making a comeback in the USA” bit during the finale is also brilliant. Because even though it was just a few lines of song, it was so spot on. Sadly enough.

Talking about Nazis. Even at the 4th and 5th time watching this show, seeing the big Nazi rap scene still feels weird to me. As a nation we Germans – rightfully, I think – had it drilled into our minds that you don’t joke about Nazis, their swastika, or anything. Showing the swastika is only allowed in a very limited context in Germany. Even using it in any artistic way can be limited I think. So seeing it so openly used here – in a context where it makes total sense, don’t get me wrong – and to hear people laugh about the number and to even laugh myself made me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable. But that’s just me. The number is very good. Johnny Bevan breaking the 4th wall after that is a new addition though, right? I don’t recall that at all from any of the previous shows, but I loved it here.

Like I said many changes / cuts were tiny, but all worked well for me and made the whole story and performance run a bit smoother than the last version I saw in 2020. Shout-out to all the creative people (director, choreographer etc.) who joined the team and helped shape this performance. I also especially liked the new (for me) ending. The glitzy finale, where many of the characters and themes got their well deserved reprise and of course the “real” finale after that. Very very moving. Well done, guys!

But now once again, let’s talk about the people on stage.

Claire-Marie Hall: Once again such a joy, not just as Jean Leslie but in all of her roles – phone carrying Steve in Spain especially. Like mentioned above, I’m so glad her voice and comedy timing can shine in the scene with Hester about the medals and sculptures.

Sean Carrey:  Deserves an every extra round of applause. He joined the show a week (?) before it opened, because David Cummings had had an accident, broken some bones and wouldn’t be able to play Charles Cholmondeley for a few weeks. So Sean stepped in on short notice. Learned all the dialogue, all the songs, all the roles and all the choreography and smashed it. By the time I was there to see the show, David and Sean were alternating the roles, but I happen to see Sean twice and David not at all. I think I might have liked to compare and contrast both actors, but it was fine this way as well. “Dead in the Water” is still my song, whoever is singing it.

Zoe Roberts: Zoe as well was only in one of the shows I saw, because she was feeling under the weather at the first one on Saturday afternoon, so her understudy Anouk Chalmers took over. Anouk did a good job as well, but no one plays Ian Fleming or the bumbling British Official in Spain as amazing as Zoe does. Her facial expressions as Haseldon are incredible and the whole suitcase / telephone / hat scene with the Spanish pathologist and assistant Steve is pure comedy gold.

Jak Malone: I’m so glad they gave Hester a bit more to do and sing and to let her be the great role model that she is. Jak plays her so wonderfully in all of it. I have to say though, that “Dear Bill” didn’t make me well up as much as it used to. Maybe it has worn off a bit. Thank God, because I was such a weepy mess after that song in 2020. Jak excels in every other part as well, the creepy coroner, the jolly American Pilot. I had the chance to meet him (and Sean) after my 2nd visit and both were such lovely human beings.

Natasha Hodgson: What can I say? 

Within seconds she always made me forgot it’s not a man playing Ewen Montagu. The arrogance, the swagger, the outrageous confidence. For some reason this time around I also was fascinated how quickly she could change moods and give off very different vibes. From being the cold, stern superior officer, when Charlie didn’t let go of the file: “I’ve issued you an order, Lieutenant” to the embarrassed and squirming – “It’s just a first draft” – screen writer within just a few quick moments. God, she’s brilliant.

So yes, I hope and have my fingers crossed this show will be able to get yet another run in one of the even (slightly) bigger theatres any time soon. Wherever it will go, I’ll be there a few times to watch it for sure. What can I say: “I was born to follow…”

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