Sixteen years ago, theatre fans were told the ‘real’ story of the Wicked Witch of the West when Stephen Schwartz’s musical Wicked flew onto the stage – and now, thanks to Fat Rascal Theatre, another famous villain has got her chance to reveal the truth behind her legend. In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Ursula the Sea Witch famously tricked the rebellious princess Ariel into giving up her beautiful voice for the chance to walk above water as a human, her curiosity well & truly piqued by the apparition of dashing Prince Eric. Could everything really have been that black and white? Ursula has now decided to set the record straight, in Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch.
Back in the days of (then) Prince Triton’s youth, a young Ursula Squirt was sent to Atlantica as a prospective bride – though she unexpectedly hit it off with Triton himself, the other suitors and the citizens of Atlantica couldn’t get past how different she was. Framed for a shocking crime, she was banished and Triton forced to choose the remaining mermaid to marry. The years pass, and Triton’s daughter Ariel grows into a vain and ditzy princess – hardly fit to inherit the throne and take on the running of an entire kingdom. In desperation he turns to Ursula, who manages to negotiate a better position for herself whilst coming up with what should be a watertight plan to help Ariel. What could possibly go wrong..?
In my experience, it’s a decidedly rare thing to find a new musical that has firepower in both the music and the book; more often than not the story side of things can end up quite lacking, which doesn’t make for an enjoyable show – no matter how good the music is. Nothing to worry about as far as Unfortunate is concerned, however! The fact that it’s a parody means that they have the source material to bounce off, giving some of the songs we know & love from our childhood a bit of a tweak & a twist (Tim Gilvin), as well as coming up with a well thought out angle on the story (Robyn Grant & Daniel Foxx). Throw in a few modern day influences such as environmental awareness and Love Island (that’s right) and you’ve got an incredibly well-rounded show.
It’s big on laughs, whether from the script or the array of visual gags (the swimming action got me every time!), and that’s obviously the main thing to take away from it – but the fact that it’s a female-led story that reinforces a message of not treating someone in a certain way just because they’re different is a big plus too.
Considering the tight squeeze in Underbelly’s Ermintrude venue, and a Fringe budget to contend with, the show is presented to an exceptionally high standard. There are great quality props and a simple, but effective, set (Abby Clark), plus some familiar – but again, slightly tweaked – costumes (Cory Shipp). The entire cast must be applauded for their fantastic sense of comedy and top notch musical theatre skills – from Stefan Rizzi as the hipster prince Triton and Katie Wells as airhead Ariel, to Allie Munro as castanet-toting crab Sebastian and Jamie Mawson as immature toff Eric. Robyn Grant is very impressive as the titular Sea Witch, with a knack for double entendre and vocals to spare.
Unfortunate is an incredibly accomplished show – and such good fun! I honestly didn’t expect to be laughing so hard and so much throughout the 70-minute run time, but the wordplay, off-the-wall humour, and the puppets definitely tick all the right boxes for me. Let’s hope there’s a long and successful future life ahead for Ursula & co.
My verdict? A funny & filthy new take on a story that hits all the right notes – the cast of five do an exceptional job.
Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch runs at Underbelly, Bristo Square (Ermintrude) until 26 August 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.