Stuart King

Review: OPERATION MINCEMEAT at Fortune Theatre

When a batch of hurriedly typed documents marked "Top Secret" were finally declassified in the 1950s, they revealed possibly the single most ludicrous premise for espionage ever devised, and although Operation Mincemeat very nearly didn’t happen, it ultimately changed the course of the Second World War.

Operation MincemeatThe cast of Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre

The brainchild of navy Captain Ewen Montagu with the help of Squadron Leader Charles Cholmondely, the idea was a bizarre and brazen attempt at tactical misdirection whereby the body of a recently deceased homeless labourer (who’d died after consuming rat poison) was dressed as a Major in the Royal Marines, complete with an attaché case containing allied plans for an invasion of Sardinia and Greece handcuffed to his wrist. The fictitious Major William Martin was then to be fired out of HMS Seraph’s submarine torpedo tube, off the coast of Spain. Once washed ashore and retrieved by the local authorities, the body would be examined and the German High Commander alerted. Along with a verifiable back story secreted into records, the body‘s legitimacy was further enhanced with a personal letter from the man’s fiancée back home, together with an engagement ring receipt and a theatre ticket stub. The bluff, if successful would result in a redeployment of Axis forces leaving Sicily vulnerable to the Allied invasion force, which would ultimately provide the bridgehead from which Europe would be liberated.

The convoluted but ultimately successful scheme spawned a 1956 film “The Man Who Never Was” and in 2022, a remake of the fully declassified story starring Colin Firth. On stage, the facts are retold and subjected to a comedy musical treatment - with a cast of 5 exuberant and energetic actors (Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming, Zoë Roberts, Jak Malone and Claire Marie-Hall) covering multiple roles in the uber-pacy caper. Lightning-fast costume changes and a dazzling array of props further enhance the onstage antics in director Robert Hastie’s production, choreographed by Jenny Arnold with set and costumes by Ben Stones.

It’s all terribly tongue-in-cheek with a chocks-away-wing-commander kinda stiffness (of the British upper lip variety) which barely lets-up from the get-go —demonstrating that small can be beautiful, frivolous and hugely entertaining.