If I am honest, and I do try to be, a musical comedy spoof is probably not my cup of tea. But it turns out to be very much my kind of biscuit. I really, really loved this wonderfully inventive and very silly musical account of a top-secret WW2 operation to trick Hitler into believing that British troops were going to invade Sardinia.
The finest bumblers and bunglers that the playing fields of Harrow and Eton could muster came up with a cunning but improbable ruse to dress up a cadaver in a British pilot’s uniform, have the body taken by submarine to Spanish waters and ensure it was washed up on a beach complete with briefcase full of secret documents detailing top secret British plans.
Photos by Dee McCourt.
I am not making this up. It is a true story and while because something is true doesn’t necessary mean it is in the slightest bit interesting, in this case it is utterly fascinating. Not least because it reminds us that Britain the war was won by luck as well as judgement and often only in spite of those who led us not because of them.
It’s not the first time this story has been told on stage. The excellent Cardboard Citizens staged a superb promenade version of the same story back in 2009, but it is a story well worth telling from a different angle, and with a satiric edge.
Astonishingly Hitler fell for the ruse. Even more astonishingly, at the time of writing there is still limited availability at some performances for this little cracker. It is evidence that while some producers spend huge amounts of money and time trying to develop new British musicals, others like SplitLip and the New Diorama are just getting on with making and staging the stuff with limited resources but impressive results. Give them more money and what couldn’t they achieve?
It is both very amusing and musically delicious. That’s because it combines the talents of core members of comedy troupe Kill the Beast with composer Felix Hagan. If pushed, I’d say there are just a couple of songs too many, but please, please, please don’t cut the Britney-inspired Nazi stormtrooper number, the slinky Let Me Die in Velvet and the tear-jerker about talking to roses delivered by Hester—the prim office manager with hidden depths—who is played by Jak Malone who mixes comedy with devastating emotional clout. I’d have liked a bit more emotional light and shade throughout, but it is just a case of tweaking the balance.
It’s not just Malone who gives a knockout performance. Everyone in this tight, talented ensemble is fabulous but a special mention for Natasha Hodgson who is very, very funny as the egotistical Montagu, a prize ass who rates his own meagre talents very highly and is confident that he is always the right man for the job. Now why was I reminded of Boris?
This is a show that in many ways is quite unassuming, and that includes Helen Coyston’s design with its dangling telephone wires and banks of filing cabinets. But there is an understated style and intelligence in the way that this is put together. It knows exactly what it is doing and how it is doing it. Even in the way it uses gender-swapping of roles to highlight particular behaviours.
I reckon this has very wide appeal, just like Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong oeuvre. It may be consummately silly, but there is wit here too, a beady-eyed look at the British ruling classes and some neat observations about how women were treated and how the war provided career opportunities for some. Provided they stood firm and refused to make the tea and hand round the biscuits.
I’d bet more than one jammy dodger that this show will have further life. It deserves it. But it is always nice to catch a piece in its first incarnation, and then go back for another bite.
Operation Mincemeat runs at New Diorama Theatre until Sat 15 June