“simply unmissable, irresistible, audacious and adorable; intelligent and invigorating.”
Midway through “Operation Mincemeat”, the musical from Spitlip, one of the characters quips that ‘you couldn’t write this!’. Based on true events, it embodies the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction adage. However, there is nothing strange about the truth that this show is unmissable, irresistible, audacious and adorable; intelligent and invigorating. That reads like the closing tagline of a review, so I’m wondering where I can go from here. On a Musical Development timeline, “Operation Mincemeat” is still a fairly young sapling, having premiered at the New Diorama Theatre only in 2019. They, too, must be asking where they can go from here. Because quite simply put, it’s already there! It’s got it all.
Based on the Allied invasion of Sicily in the Second World War, it tells the story of how two members of the British intelligence service managed to deceive Hitler by (dubiously and possibly illegally) obtaining the corpse of a Welsh tramp who died eating rat poison, dressing him up as an officer, planting false documents in a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, and dropping him into the waters off the southern coast of Spain. The following morning it was dredged up by a fisherman. Although Spain was technically neutral, the documents still found their way into German hands. These documents detailed the Allies’ plans to invade Sardinia, when in fact it was Sicily all along. The Germans fell for it hook, line and sinker and, to cut a long story short, the liberation gathered speed. Yes – you couldn’t write it!
Outlandish as it is, SpitLip manage to embellish it further with a goldmine of quirky ideas, characters and scenarios, beautifully and joyously crafted songs, more laughs than you can really handle in one evening and even the odd, serious message thrown in for good measure. The multi rolling, gender-blind ensemble adopt a host of personalities amid a whirlwind of scenes and songs. The score is eclectic, encompassing rap, rock, swing, sea shanties, dance, dubstep, hip-hop and ballads to name a few; with leitmotifs recurring in perfect rhythm to the showstopping numbers that drive the show.
The writing and composing credits are attributed to SpitLip, which comprises David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoe Roberts. Cumming, Hodgson and Roberts make up the cast joined by Claire-Marie Hall and Jak Malone. I could exceed my wordcount reeling off the individual attributes of each cast member but, in truth, none needs to be singled out. Hagan, the Musical Director, is on keys with Ellen O’Reilly on bass and synth bass and Lewis Jenkins on drums and percussion. It would be a crime not to mention Sherry Coenen’s lighting and Mike Walker’s sound design. This is a show where each ingredient (not forgetting Jenny Arnold’s choreography and Helen Coyston’s costume) blends together to produce the perfect concoction. With parts this great it’s hard for the sum to be greater – but it manages.
The real-life Operation Mincemeat was a success. One that changed the course of history. Although Spitlip’s “Operation Mincemeat” probably won’t change the world, it will make its mark in the world of musicals. Every note, sung or spoken, in this show serves a purpose. Even the throwaway adlibs and asides. I’ve already used up my closing tagline, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat. “Operation Mincemeat” is simply unmissable, irresistible, audacious and adorable; intelligent and invigorating. I wish I had a few more hundred words to play with here, but if you want the detail, just go and see it. It’s unmissable. Did I say that already…?
“There is no denying, however, the zest, energy, and electricity on the stage”
The Royal Family has long been prey for satirists; ever since they stopped chopping your head off for disrespectful behaviour. From eighteenth century paintings, in literature, the press; through to today’s many outlets on the small and big screen and on stage. It is only expected, and to their credit, the Royals accept it now and often go along with it. ‘Spitting Image’ aside, the most successful place them in an alternative scenario. Sue Townsend’s ‘The Queen and I’ deprives the House of Windsor of its royal status and makes them live like normal citizens, while Mike Bartlett’s sharply observant play, ‘King Charles III’, centres on the accession of King Charles and the dissolving of parliament.
“The Windsors: Endgame” follows suit with its ‘what if’ premise, although the writers George Jeffrie and Bert Tyler-Moore tackle the subject with blunter instruments. But what is lacking in nuance is made up for in humour and topicality. I confess to not having watched any of the Channel Four television series that spawned the stage transfer, but understand that the fiction was based around real life events. On stage at the (appropriately) Prince of Wales Theatre, reality seems to be constantly wandering off, only stopped short of disappearing completely by the numerous topical gags that fire through the script.
The Queen has abdicated, and Prince Charles finally gets his hands on the crown. Not without giving us a song first. Harry Enfield clearly relishes the role of the deluded Charles, with echoes of Alan Bennett’s ‘Madness of King George’. Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Camilla is one of the highlights, a mix of Cruella de Ville and Lady Macbeth. Matthew Cottle opens the evening as Edward, throwing in jokes about his stint as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s production assistant (tea-boy). We are rapidly introduced to pretty much the whole household thereafter. It obviously focuses on Wills and Harry, Kate and Meghan; but Fergie, Andrew, Beatrice and Eugenie are all in the writers’ sightline. The feuds are as exaggerated as the characterisation and the jokes are presented with a fanfare that makes them impossible to miss.
The lack of subtlety places Michael Fentiman’s production in pantomime territory. Albeit not one for all the family. But profanity and sexual innuendo cannot really disguise the predictability of the jokes. Unfortunately, what it does disguise, even dismantles, is the potential cleverness of the plot. But then again, I am obviously missing the point and I concede gracefully, being surrounded by a packed house that is lapping up every moment.
And it has to be admitted there is a lot to cherish here, and once you’re in the mood you start enjoying it as much as the cast are. Kara Tointon and Crystal Condie are delightful as the sparring Kate and Meghan; matched by Ciarán Owens and Tom Durant-Pritchard as Wills and Harry, torn between love and duty and family responsibility (throwing in a bit of accidental wife-swapping too!). The characters on the side-lines are the more interesting: Sophie-Louise Dann is a wonderful Fergie, ultimately standing by Tim Wallers’ naughty but nice cad Andrew; while Jenny Rainsford and Eliza Butterworth are great fun to watch as Beatrice and Eugenie.
Less fun are the impromptu musical numbers which crop up incongruously, and merely serve to repeat many of the jokes that are already in danger of being wrung dry. There is no denying, however, the zest, energy, and electricity on the stage. Try as you might to find fault, you cannot help giving in eventually, and breaking into a reluctant smile. That’s when you realise you are way behind the rest of the audience who have been smiling from the start. Even if The Windsors aren’t for you, give them a break. You’re probably the odd one out.