Operation Mincemeat musical review, Fortune Theatre, London

Based on a famously audacious wartime plot, “Operation Mincemeat” is “a brilliant spy thriller, a brilliant comedy, and a brilliant musical all rolled into one”, said Tim Bano in The Stage. This “exhilarating” production began life in 2019 at the tiny New Diorama Theatre in London, and has since enjoyed several fringe and regional runs and won “a catalogue of five-star reviews (here, have another one)”. Now, with a new director and a tweaked script, it has arrived in the West End “better than ever”. 

The story will be familiar to many, said Clive Davis in The Times. In order to trick the Germans into thinking that the Allies’ plan to invade Sicily in 1943 was merely a feint, British intelligence obtained a body from a morgue, dressed it in an officer’s uniform, planted fake official documents on it, and dropped it into the sea off the coast of Spain to be washed ashore. All this is “brilliantly evoked” by a multi-tasking, gender-switching cast of five superb comic actors (three of whom were among the original creators of the show). It’s “gloriously inventive”, and “sometimes the jokes hit you so quickly that you barely have time to laugh before the next one comes sweeping along”. 

Musically, there are first-rate pastiches of everything from “Hamilton” and “Six” to Gilbert and Sullivan, Noël Coward and sea shanties, said Theo Bosanquet on What’s on Stage. There are also homages to Monty Python and Mel Brooks; there is even a nod to Flanders and Swann. It manages to feel “utterly contemporary and nostalgically throw-back” while balancing “genuine hilarity with enormous heart”: the evening includes a moving tribute to the memory of Glyndwr Michael, the homeless Welsh man whose cadaver was used. 

Robert Hastie’s production is not flawless, said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. If the (unrelated) 2021 film about the operation was too sombre, this musical could be accused of submerging the gravity of war, and what was at stake, in a “barrage of jaunty wit”. And at times the rapid-fire “tongue-twisting lyrics verge on indecipherability”. Still, it is a “winning” show that deserves to run and run.

Fortune Theatre, London WC2 (0333-009 6690; operationmincemeat.com). Until 19 August. Rating ****