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Unfortunate

Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch

★★★★★

Underbelly Festival Earls Court

Unfortunate

Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch

Underbelly Festival Earls Court

Reviewed – 23rd June 2022

★★★★

 

“Elliotte Williams-N’Dure’s Ursula grabs the reigns and takes supreme control”

 

‘The Wizard of Oz’ has had ‘Wicked, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ has had ‘Maleficent’, ‘The Hundred and One Dalmatians’ had ‘Cruella’; and now ‘The Little Mermaid’ is dragging the villain centre stage with “Ursula”; Fat Rascal Theatre’s take on Disney’s take on Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’. With a bit of a mouthful for a title – “Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch’ – the stress is on the “Unfortunate”, although there is nothing unfortunate about this scandalous, sexy, subversive, salacious story.

If the delivery is wicked (in every sense of the word: old, new and urban), the premise is noble. What if Ursula wasn’t bad? If she were a victim of circumstance, prejudice, and cancel culture. If you can dig beneath the laughs, the slapstick and the outrageously catchy tunes (and you’ll need a pretty large spade) you will discover a character who has more dimensions than Disney’s hi-tech animation wizardry could ever produce.

Banished over an unfortunate incident involving a sea cucumber, Ursula is later called upon by King Triton to sort out his wayward daughter Ariel. She’s not the heir he hoped for; she just wants to be “where the dicks are”. Yes, you read that correctly. Not the most subtle or profound witticism but it does make for a hilarious and irresistible earworm of a song. Like the rest of Tim Gilvin’s score, with Robyn Grant’s and Daniel Foxx’s book and lyrics, this musical washes over you in gorgeous waves, pulling you under so you don’t care about when you can next come up for air.

Originally an hour-long tsunami of a show, the writers have spent the pandemic expanding it into two acts. It seems that this might have diluted the impact and lifted the plot from the anchor that is Ursula. But before it can drift too far, Elliotte Williams-N’Dure’s Ursula grabs the reigns and takes supreme control. A commanding performance with an equally commanding presence. We root for her from the outset and, while her journey isn’t the grandest arc in theatre, we see the effects of her personality on the other characters’ journeys. Miracle Chance’s ditzy, petulant, TOWIE inspired Ariel is certainly taught a thing or two by Ursula. The messages are unaffected by the tongue-in-cheek delivery. “It’s unfortunate you have to lose your voice to get a man” she croons just before interval.

George Whitty, as the glittered and bearded Triton, casts his stunning voice into the air – enough to keep the upturned, purple cow that is the underbelly inflated all on its own. All the company are in fine voice, and on finer form, particularly the starry and mesmerising Allie Dart-Munro as Sebastian, the Irish crab, among other voices of reason, redemption and ridiculousness. Such is the versatility of this ensemble cast, one of the biggest surprises of the evening is delivered at curtain call when we realise they are only number six in total. It is all aided by the puppetry (puppets directed, designed and built by Hugh Purves with co-designer Abby Clarke) and costumes (Cory Shipp): works of art in themselves.

With a collection of songs that are intelligent, funny and memorable; and with a storyline that is bold, brave and rebellious, “Unfortunate” is as far removed from Disney as you can get. “We Didn’t Make It to Disney” exemplifies its intentions as the cast make a celebration of banishing any attempt at grabbing a family audience. Leave the kids at home, folks. Enjoy the X-rated humour in the company of like-minded grown-up children.

A little rough around the edges, “Unfortunate…” is not quite watertight. A few bits of flotsam and jetsam could be dredged, but its London premiere breaks onto the shores of Earls Court in a tidal wave of irreverent madness, mayhem and musicality. Go and get swept away.

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Craig Sugden

 


Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch

Underbelly Festival until 16th July followed by UK Tour

 

Other shows recently reviewed by Jonathan:
The Silent Woman | ★★★★ | White Bear Theatre | April 2022
The Straw Chair | ★★★ | Finborough Theatre | April 2022
Grease | ★★★★ | Dominion Theatre | May 2022
Legally Blonde | ★★★ | Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | May 2022
Orlando | ★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | May 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | May 2022
The End of the Night | ★★ | Park Theatre | May 2022
The Man Behind the Mask | ★★★★ | Churchill Theatre | May 2022
Til Death do us Part | ★★★★★ | Theatre503 | May 2022
Tomorrow May Be My Last | ★★★★★ | Old Red Lion Theatre | May 2022

 

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