Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula The Sea Witch – Underbelly Earls Court – London

Reviewer: Andrew Houghton

Book & Lyrics: Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx

Music: Tim Gilvin

Director: Robyn Grant

The ‘two sides to every story’ concept is a proven recipe for success; from mega-musical Wicked, to Starkid’s cult favourite Twisted, and of course Disney’s recent blockbusters Maleficent and Cruella. Ahead of its run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Fat Rascal Theatre are currently serving up its own origin musical with Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula The Sea Witch.

It is no surprise that villains thrive in the spotlight; their diva personas, cynical outlook and camp style ooze audience appeal – and Ursula is the queer queen of drama. Disney villains in particular are prime material for this remastered treatment, due to their universal recognition. After all, the merit of a reimagined tale lies, at least in part, in how cleverly they twist the original source material. Unfortunate does a brilliant job of turning The Little Mermaid on its head with a well-paced narrative that would still function as a stand-alone piece. An entertaining almost-romance between young Ursula and Triton re-contextualises the underwater kingdom and then, just before this narrative dries up, Ariel swims along and the production rides the wave of recognisable material.

This Disney parody, incredibly tongue-in-cheek, holds no punches in pointing out the shortcomings of the global giant. In fact, stand-out number We Didn’t Make It To Disney even capitalises on the regular erasure of ‘undesirable’ characters. Unfortunate, much to the delight of its audience, is crude and sarcastic in its handling of The Little Mermaid plot – but it is all done with love. The show is certainly for adults who grew up with the beloved tale, rather than the youth of today, and the unapologetic tidal wave of penis jokes cements this. There is something truly genius about taking innocent childhood nostalgia and completely obliterating it with filthy, brazen sex jokes.

Unfortunate is a visual delight with a grandiose set, creative costumes and stunning puppetry which combine to provide a production value rarely seen at its fringe destination. There are a few hiccups with costume slips and faulty props but this may even enhance the experience as the cast take it completely in their stride. Accompanied by an onstage band, it is genuinely surprising to see only six performers at the curtain call after two hours of hilarious multi-rolling and stellar world building.

The cast are extremely strong across the board, though each have their specialties of course. As Triton, George Whitty delivers impressive vocals which would sit comfortably amongst the West End’s finest, while natural comedian Jamie Mawson’s delivers an Eric who is so wrong it’s right. Allie Munro could have their own one person show, stealing so many scenes as the biggest multi-roler of the piece, and they almost reign as star of the show; but of course that honour goes to the octowoman herself. As Ursula, Elliotte Williams-N’Dure doesn’t need to steal anyone’s voice as she seduces the entire theatre with her fierce belt and charismatic drawl. Serving all of the sass and ass you expect from the purple powerhouse, this is Ursula’s world and we are all living in it – and for it.

Unfortunate has not only a hilariously written script but an intelligent and infectious score to match. The songs parodying classics like Under The Sea and Part Of Your World are naturally crowd pleasers; but what elevates this musical is the ambitious new material. Unfortunate takes its name from the iconic Poor Unfortunate Souls and so there is a lot riding on the equivalent title-song which closes the first act. Instead of trying to compete with the popular showstopper, Fat Rascal side-step it altogether with a rap song set to a club beat; which, admittedly, is a big swing, but fortunately this original take is a huge hit.

A handful of the songs have been released online as part of an EP and it is a testament to their strength that they hold up so well outside of the production. It is also a blessing to hear the lyrics in all their glory because the production’s biggest downfall is its sound-levelling. There is so much quality content happening onstage but there are moments the audience must resort to lip reading to salvage it from the overwhelming boom of the onstage band.

Fat Rascal Theatre has flourished from fringe favourite to national success over the last few years and Unfortunate displays the company at the top of its game – any audience would be lucky to see it. The production graduates the tale from a childhood classic to a modern masterpiece with creativity, skill and so many laughs. Dark humour, silly humour, clever humour – Unfortunate is endless fun.

Runs until 16 July 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Endless fun

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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