Wickedly Brash: ‘Unfortunate- the Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch’ Review

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Image credit: Pamela Raith

★★★★

It might not be the Ursula you remember, but it’ll certainly be an Ursula you wont forget. Unfortunate- the Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch is the story of one of Disney’s favourite villains, but with a bit of Lycra, a sprinkle of camp and … a murdered sea cucumber? Storming to Liverpool’s Playhouse theatre, Unfortunate is a rollicking performance. Directed by Robyn Grant, it gives us the only role model we really need: an incredibly unapologetic one.

Complete with the cliché backstory—the poor octopus and the rich prince, never meant to fall in love—the flamboyant costumes, and the sardonic lyrics, a textbook parody emerges. It follows Ursula’s childhood as an outcast, her banishment from the city of Atlantica and the subsequent crawling back from the good-guys. It turns out the whole Ariel thing was actually more for her own good than Disney made it out to be. Unfortunate is delivered to the letter and the letter is pitch-perfect. Each wisecrack lands and each surprise double entendre hits just as well as all the expected ones.  

Outstanding vocals bring Tim Gilvin’s brazen soundtrack to life with verve. Shawna Hamic, in the lead as Ursula, is wickedly brash and Triton (Thomas Lowe), the hard-done-by royal, is charmingly whimsical. Enter the crux of the issue: Triton’s daughter Ariel (River Medway). Young and foolish and on the hunt for… well, something humans have that apparently mermen don’t. Medway is uncompromisingly ditzy and hilarious as the human-obsessed teen and Eric (Jamie Mawson), playing opposite her is the perfect embodiment of the infantile rich thirty-something. It’s a cathartic look at fairy tales and a message that the only way is up.

And up it goes in many a fashion. Thoroughly entertaining multi-roling (Allie Dart excels across the board), a plethora of accents, and some puppetry thrown in for good measure, makes Unfortunate a swirling sea of talent. The energy from the cast is untameable to match all the satire you could want. It is bold, witty, and only a handful of jokes overstep the line.

Set both under the sea or aboard a ship, Abby Clarke’s stage design exceeds on every level, sea-legs or not. It gives the musical numbers the magnitude they require alongside the punchy lyrics that really, wander in any direction they want. A poke at Disney doesn’t go amiss and the cruder the lyrics the better. Boisterous twists on old classics are joyously welcomed to the stage and the audience are on board with every bit.

Unfortunate is an unrelenting torrent of filth, bolstered by the entertaining (and sometimes warm) story at its heart. Majestic in every way, this performance will outdo your expectations on musical parodies and finally reveal the truth about one of Disney’s baddest bad guys.

Unfortunate- the Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch is touring the UK until July 2024.

Words by Hannah Goldswain.


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