Tag Archives: New Diorama Theatre

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat


Fortune Theatre

OPERATION MINCEMEAT at the Fortune Theatre


Operation Mincemeat

“hilarious from start to finish”


A little over four years ago, in an eighty-seater black box near Regents Park, there was a workshop presentation of a new musical about an obscure World War II intelligence mission centring around a homeless corpse. The joint collaborators were all in agreement that it was a bit of a crackpot idea, but the foursome ran with it. They called themselves ‘SpitLip’ and described themselves as ‘makers of big, dumb musicals’. Of the four (David Cummings, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoë Roberts), Hagan was the only one not to take to the stage. Instead, Claire-Marie Hall and Jak Malone were pressganged into the cast for the show’s first outing.

And they are there still. They are the first to admit that they never thought ‘it would go as far as this’. Along the way, though, the backers and the audiences have begged to differ. From the New Diorama, to Southwark Playhouse, to Riverside Studios and finally washing ashore in the West End. In retrospect, its transfer was inevitable for this “unmissable, irresistible, audacious and adorable; intelligent and invigorating” show. The quotation is from my review at Southwark two years ago – and it still applies. In fact, I could take the lazy option and copy and paste chunks of the original review (I won’t). Little has changed. Director Rob Hastie has been brought in to smooth the transfer to the figurative ‘bigger stage’. In essence, the playing space itself is no larger than either Southwark or Riverside. Ben Stones’ set and costume design adds gloss, right through to the ‘Glitzy Finale’ and Mark Henderson’s lighting releases the show from its budgetary shackles, but let’s face it – the show was already beyond improvement.

By its very nature it appears to be constantly on the edge of falling apart; an intended shambolic veneer that reflects the ‘fact-is-stranger-than-fiction’ story it tells. The real-life plot is too far-fetched to have worked, carried out by the brash and privileged but inept MI5 agents. Hitler needed convincing that the allies were not going to invade Sicily. “Act as if you do when you don’t… act as if you will when you won’t”. The lyrics from just one of the overwhelmingly catchy numbers epitomise the double bluffs that cram the book and the songs. To achieve this, Charles Cholmondeley (Cumming) hatches the idea to dump a corpse off the coast Spain, dressed as an Air Force Officer and bearing false documents that outline British plans to advance on Sardinia. Ewen Montagu (Hodgson) latches on to the absurd plan convincing Colonel ‘Johnny’ Bevan (Roberts) of its unfailing potential. Or rather of the lack of alternative strategies. The Germans were fooled completely. That’s not a spoiler – it is historical fact. Ewen Montagu even wrote a film about it years later – ‘The Man Who Never Was’. Throwaway snippets like these are scattered throughout the show, delivered with the flawless eye for satire by the company. Each cast member multi-role the numerous and outlandish characters and, irrespective of gender, always convincing in their attention to detail. It is ludicrous, scandalous, overblown and absurd; occasionally bordering on tasteless (all compliments).

“Operation Mincemeat” is a delight – hilarious from start to finish. But ingenious too. The comedy conceals its hidden depths. Beneath the Pythonesque book and beguilingly eclectic score lies a profundity that breaks through if you let it. “Dear Bill” (sung by Malone as the secretary Hester Leggett) is a ripple of pure poignancy. A simple, aching moment of personal expression that veils a global anti-war poem.

SpitLip never thought ‘it would go as far as this’. They have all stayed on board though, and it’s now going to be a long operation. The West End run keeps extending. At some point they might have to hand over the reins. The unmistakable chemistry that burns through the company is part of the attraction. The bar is set high for prospective cast changes. It is intriguing; not just to see where “Operation Mincemeat” (still their debut show) goes from here, but to see what else is up their sleeves. But for now, they have conquered the West End. Mission accomplished. Success!



Reviewed on 19th July 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Matt Crockett




Operation Mincemeat Earlier Reviews:


Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | New Diorama Theatre | May 2019
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | August 2021


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After the Act

After the Act


New Diorama Theatre

AFTER THE ACT at the New Diorama Theatre


After the Act

“a powerful and inspired piece of theatre”


In 1988, the Conservative government introduced a series of laws across Britain under Section 28 that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities. Whipped up by media panic and the Danish book ‘Jenny lives with Eric and Martin’, the bill had a devastating effect on the lives of LGBTQ+ people and still leaves a terrifying legacy within the teaching profession.

20 years after the infamous bills’ repeal, multi-award-winning theatre company Breach (It’s True, It’s True, It’s True) have transformed archival interviews from teachers, activists and students who lived and worked during the reign of Section 28 into a verbatim musical complete with impassioned songs accompanied by 80s synth. Directed by company co-founder Billy Barrett, this musical feels all the more pertinent as trans rights become more restrictive than ever within the United Kingdom.

The cast – Tika Mu’tamir, Ellice Stevens (also co-founder and writer), EM Williams and Zachary Willis – re-enact the accounts of various different stakeholders in the bill whilst wearing a jazzy selection of 80s outfits. The singing is for the most part quite strong – especially Mu’tamir – though more is spoken than explicitly sung so that the words used can be thoroughly digested by the audience. A jaunty tune relaying the various slurs hurled at gay people is particularly good.

There is a vague chronology to the show though we jump back and forward in time when best suits. We begin with the storming of the BBC TV Studio by lesbian activists before following the campaign of terror launched by the Tory party and right-wing groups over materials available via Haringey Council to present a positive image of gay and lesbian people. Other iconic moments include a group of activists abseiling into the House of Lords after Section 28 is made law as well as various debates within the Commons where homophobic comments are made with (pardon the pun) gay abandon.

Stevens gives a particularly fantastic performance. Her comic timing is impeccable and her performance as a near-drag Margaret Thatcher to open the second half is simply fantastic. Williams and Mu’tamir provide great support and narrative direction as they effectively recreate one interview between pairs of lesbian activitists who took part in the storming of the BBC and abseiling into the House of Lords to protest the bill respectively. Willis brings a wonderful tenderness to his retelling of a young gay man who attempted suicide at school due to the lack of support, guidance or communication about his sexuality.

Archival footage and backdrops are projected onto the sets various layered walls (Leach). These are sometimes playful, at other times deadly serious as we see young men in hospital with AIDS. The use of video adds great movement to the set that is otherwise rather plain though makes great use of levels and steps to enhance the space. The musicians – Frew and Ellie Showering – station themselves above the stage on a raised platform and provide a thoroughly energetic performance.

A sheer sheet and projector is used for a fair chunk of the first half which works particularly well when we are watching Sue Lawley deliver her news broadcast but provides a bit of a psychological barrier as we move to real-life testimony. It is welcome when it is removed. It is also a shame that the platform on which the musicians are stationed is not utilised for the famous abseil though health and safety concerns are of course understood!

After the Act is a powerful and inspired piece of theatre. The songs are inventive and engaging and the performances are thoroughly heartfelt. This is a must-see.


Reviewed on 9th March 2023

by Flora Doble

Photography by Alex Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Project Dictator | ★★½ | April 2022


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