Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

Book and lyrics by Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx, music by Tim Gilvin
Laura Elmes for Wildpark Entertainment, Runaway Entertainment, The Vaults and Dianne Roberts
Curve Theatre, Leicester

Listing details and ticket info...

Shawna Hamic (Ursula) and cast Credit: Pamela Raith
Thomas Lowe (Triton), Shawna Hamic (Ursula) Credit: Pamela Raith
River Medway (Ariel) Credit: Pamela Raith
Cast of Unfortunate: the Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch Credit: Pamela Raith
Vanessa (Julian Capolei), Jamie Mawson (Eric) Credit: Pamela Raith

Brace yourselves, Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, a prequel and re-telling of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, takes familiar Disney tropes, gives them a major going over and blows the original right out the water.

From this parody musical’s conception in 2018, a five-star run at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, and UK tour in 2022, this zhuzhed-up production is currently touring the UK until July 2024.

If you’re up for some bawdy, brash and, quite frankly, bonkers entertainment, then this is for you. From the programme, the show’s creators wanted “the comedy to feel transgressive and naughty, the references punchy and queer, and the staging ambitious.” A big tick for that, as this is a really satisfying reworking of Disney's animation. Abby Clarke’s set, costume and puppet design is a triumph, the shimmeringly colourful costumes as over the top as the characters.

We meet renowned sea witch Ursula (a fabulous Shawna Hamic) languishing in her watery wasteland following banishment twenty years previously by Prince Triton (an equally fabulous Thomas Lowe) and his father who framed Ursula for the murder of a rather unusual princess. Through song, dance, puppetry, and raunchy puns, we are taken back to Ursula’s early life, her humble beginnings as a toilet cleaner (making good use of her tentacles), her developing relationship with Prince Triton and how her attempts to make the ocean a better place were thwarted. Ursula and Triton’s “will they, won’t they” situation is explored in the rock number “Sucking On You”, and is a masterpiece of overblown musical theatre.

Back to “present day” and Prince Triton, now king, swims back to Ursula to beg for help with his errant daughter Ariel (River Medway, also fabulous) who wants to become human to experience… well, her song “Where the Dicks Are” probably explains this one. Ursula accepts Triton’s proposal and, wanting to teach the brattish Ariel a lesson, swaps Ariel’s voice for legs, manufactures a meeting with the outrageously awful Prince Eric (an excellent Jamie Mawson) and confusion, the ubiquitous hilarious consequences plus several unexpected outcomes unfold.

Apart from Ursula and Triton, the impressive cast play multiple roles, with puppets and multiple costume changes, but always with cheeky fun. Allie Dart as Sebastian (among many other key roles) is brilliant; “Les Poissons” performed with River Medway is another show highlight.

Director (and co-writer) Robyn Grant maximises the harpoon-sharp comedy throughout, and there is a real feeling of everyone involved with this show having a blast.

A quibble though—clever lyrics are again occasionally lost where the sound balance isn’t right (the onstage band led by Arlene McNaught is superb, but it is frustrating only hearing a handful of words in a song).

Ursula was originally inspired by the legendary drag artist Divine for Disney’s 1989 animation, yet this aspect was played down. In Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, there is a sense of redemption with drag, dirty humour and clever pastiche centre stage—and the story is all the richer and more enjoyable for it.

Reviewer: Sally Jack

*Some links, including Amazon, Stageplays.com, Bookshop.org, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?