FeaturedMusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch – Grand Opera House, York

Reviewer: Jennie Eyres

Book and Lyrics: Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx

Music: Tim Gilvin

Director: Robyn Grant

Possibly the most astonishing thing about Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch is that the production has a cast of just 10. It is only during the bows and encore at the end that this truly comes to light, and it does come as a real surprise. The show feels much bigger, the sound is much stronger and the stage feels much fuller than a small touring cast should make it. One of the many joys of this show is the fact that every single member of this incredible team is on their A game, swapping characters (and costumes) in the blink of an eye and filling the stage with colour and a level of bonkers wackiness that is only usually reserved for pantomime.

The story itself is based loosely on the 1989 Disney film, The Little Mermaid, beginning before the film does and showing us what happened to Ursula growing up, as well as showing the events from the film in a different light, telling the audience that this is what ‘really happened’. It is established very early on that the fabulous and somewhat furious Ursula was never actually killed off as the film would have it, and we are treated to an alternative ending that feels altogether more camp, crazy and weirdly fitting – like Wicked on steroids.

Ursula herself is a nod to the drag queen Divine, and the show contains huge dollops of campery, cross dressing and full drag throughout, it is easy to see why this musical parody is fast becoming a favourite of the LGBTQIA+ community. Shawna Hamic (Orange is the New Black, 1776 on Broadway) plays the unapologetically fat, loud and hot anti-hero perfectly with a mixture of sass, strength and vulnerability that gives what could be a brash and straightforward villain a complexity that is strangely endearing. And Hamic can SING. Big notes, great pipes and when singing with Triton (Thomas Lowe of North and South – remember them?) their powerhouse rock duets are absolutely superb. Lowe plays Triton for camp laughs, from the flick of his eighties hair to his brilliantly styled spandex jumpsuit and glittery pecs and it really works.

Allie Dart should win an award for her ability to switch between characters, she plays Sebastian, Flotsam (or Jetsom), Colette the French chef (yes, it’s a Ratatouille reference!) as well as a plethora of smaller parts, the vast majority with accents and all of them requiring a great singing voice. Your reviewer has not seen an actor work so hard, with so much energy and accomplish quite so much on stage in a long time.

River Medway also needs mentioning, her brilliant Katie Price meets Rylan accent and her affectations of stupidity turn Ariel into a vapid airhead perfectly. Her voice is, by design, pleasingly horrible and Medway manages to sing both in and out of tune at all the right times.

In Unfortunate, Eric is a bumbling ninny of a man, still essentially Peter Pan at age 36, who is all about boobs and bouncy castles – Jamie Mawson plays this part (and indeed the part of Poseidon too) perfectly. Eric adores himself, his pipe (more of a flute really) and having a jolly good time, making him the perfect match for bimbo Ariel.

Another actor who appears as a host of different characters is Julian Capolei, with quick costumes changes abound, they steal the scene as Vanessa, Ursula’s alter ego who in this production is a moustachioed, leggy siren with a fabulously silly voice.

This musical parody is jam packed with songs, storylines and sex jokes which means that it hares along at an incredible pace. Sometimes a little too fast, the last joke has barely landed before the next one is thrown out, and at times the clever lyrics are lost due to the speed at which they are sung, the noise of the band also occasionally drowns the actors out (which was thankfully improved in the second half).

This is a silly, outrageously funny, glittery, sparkly show that calls out the somewhat questionable aspects of the film covering consent (Ask the Girl, rather than Kiss the Girl) and cultural stereotypes (Sebastian no longer has an OTT Jamaican accent) using puppetry, brilliant costumes, catchy songs, effective use of cucumbers and some very clever lighting. It is a feast for the eyes and ears and should go on to become a cult classic.

Runs until 15th June 2024.

The Reviews Hub Score

Future cult classic

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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