Tag Archives: Southwark Playhouse

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat

★★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 18th August 2021

★★★★★

 

“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…?

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Matt Crockett

 


Operation Mincemeat

Southwark Playhouse until 18th September

 

Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
You Are Here | ★★★★ | May 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | June 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Staircase

Staircase

★★★

Southwark Playhouse

Staircase

Staircase

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 25th June 2021

★★★

 

“John Sackville and Paul Rider command the stage throughout and restore the sense of period with their finely nuanced performances”

 

It’s difficult to imagine now that when Charles Dyer’s “Staircase” was first produced for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966, the Lord Chamberlain savaged the script, demanding cuts. A few expletives had to go (beggar replaced bugger), as were some fairly innocent references that were deemed to have a ‘homosexual’ context. But the hugging was allowed. The irony is that Covid 19 has finally achieved what the Lord Chamberlain couldn’t. The two actors in Tricia Thorns’ revival at Southwark Playhouse don’t touch. Thorns always suspected that lifting the restrictions would be delayed and so she took that into account. Whether intentional or not, this distancing has the fortunate side effect of heightening the sense of secrecy, surreptitiousness and suppression that surrounded same-sex relationships in the sixties.

Dyer’s two-hander is very much a period piece. Set in a Brixton barber’s shop it explores the fear and insecurity felt by Charlie and Harry (John Sackville and Paul Rider respectively); two gay men who run the salon. It examines what Oscar Wilde described as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’. In 1966, if you were gay you could end up in jail. Of course, times have changed hugely since then, but the sense of isolation and loneliness that Sackville and Rider bring to their roles still resonate.

It is tempting to read into the script the autobiographical content – especially as the playwright has used his own name for one of the characters, and an anagram for the other. Charles Dyer and Harry C Leeds are an odd couple. We know they are a couple, but there are moments when that certainty falters, and we are reminded of the bygone television sketches in which Morecambe and Wise are sitting up in bed in their pyjamas. There is often too much innocence and ‘playing it safe’ in Dyer’s script which is undoubtedly a result of the time in which it was written, but it does soften the impact of the message.

In today’s climate this might be a struggle for the actors to get a solid grip on the characters and there is the constant danger of the writing appearing dated. But John Sackville and Paul Rider command the stage throughout and restore the sense of period with their finely nuanced performances. Sackville’s Charlie is a bit of an egoist, and very much in denial. An actor who hasn’t acted for over a decade and a father who hasn’t met his daughter yet. With a failed marriage behind him, he is clinging onto this fragile façade as a defence in an upcoming trial for dressing in drag and sitting on a man’s lap. Rider, as Harry – the slightly older lover, teases and torments while betraying an underlying hurt that Charlie is denying him his one stab at happiness.

After the interval the play gathers momentum as the disagreements give way to a vague harmony. It remains unresolved though, which reflects the brittle hope that the characters feel. A change is coming, but for the moment it’s not quite enough for them.

In retrospect, that change was a long time coming. Yes, we have come a long way since the sixties, but this show can serve as a reminder that there is still a way to go. Stigmas may disappear but internal repression often pervades. “Staircase” begins as a comedy but step by step you discover two lonely souls, unable to fully be themselves, or be with each other. It’s a fairly slow ascent, but the final touches to the piece are reward enough for making the climb.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Phil Gammon

 


Staircase

Southwark Playhouse until 17th July

 

Previously reviewed at this venue in 2021:
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews