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Operation Mincemeat review at New Diorama, London – ‘a masterclass of macabre musical comedy’

The cast of Operation Mincemeat at the New Diorama Theatre, London. Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown The cast of Operation Mincemeat at the New Diorama Theatre, London. Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown
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In the middle of this madcap musical about a particularly bizarre espionage plot during the Second World War, the flooringly funny piss-take and parody take a back seat for just a second.

Picture it: a man dressed as a woman – high-waisted polyester trousers, a parody of the prim secretaries who serviced the ruling classes – composes a fake love letter to a corpse. And sings it. And it’s just so unexpectedly moving. Minutes later, the absurdity resumes and that gorgeous little moment is gone.

That’s the mark of a fantastic piece of work: that it can make you breathless from fits of laughter and then turn it on its head in an instant.

It’s hardly a surprise coming from members of the grotesquely talented Kill the Beast and composer Felix Hagan. Simply, it’s a musical retelling of one of the more gruesome moments in British military history: in order to divert Hitler’s attention away from an Allied attack on Sicily, MI6 planted fake ‘top secret’ documents on a corpse and had it wash up on Spanish shores pretending it was a downed RAF airman.

What SpitLip and Kill the Beast have managed to do is squeeze the story into the conventions of a musical, honouring and pastiching them along the way. It’s like a grand tour of the West End, covering Hamilton, Six and countless others along the way, with added high-kicking Nazis.

It’s also an incredibly acute examination of the tally-ho old boys network that ran the intelligence services, a deconstruction of class and chauvinism, of camaraderie and suspicion.

Every multi-roling performer in the five-strong cast brings everything they can – amazing voices, brilliant comic performances. In short, a masterclass of macabre musical comedy, masterfully performed. I spy a hit.

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Masterclass of macabre musical comedy about a corpse that helped win the Second World War