You know a comedy musical is doing its job properly when you spend the entire duration of it with a massive grin on your face. That was this reviewer’s experience of Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, performing now at London’s Southwark Playhouse Elephant.
This intimate venue proves perfect for the raucous and delightfully crude production, which tells an alternative backstory of everyone’s favourite Disney villain, played by Shawna Hamic. The Orange Is The New Black actor is every bit the human embodiment of Ursula, from Divine-inspired filth and sass to soaring pitch-perfect vocals.
Hamic leads a stellar cast who seem to be having just as much inappropriate fun as the audience. The show pulls no punches when it comes to adult humour, dropping f-bombs and vivid sexual dialogue like nobody’s business. There’s even a bit of casual same-sex incestual flirtation thrown in for good measure between Prince Triton (Thomas Lowe) and his father Neptune, the latter of whom is described as having “a wizard’s face with a twink’s body”.
The cheeky vulgarity only adds to the hilarity
Yet, the cheeky vulgarity only adds to the hilarity. Highlights are Jamie Mawson’s himbo-esque Prince Eric, multi-accented Allie Dart’s Sebastian and various other characters, and Drag Race UK‘s River Medway’s TOWIE-fied teen brat Ariel. River is no Streissand by any stretch of the imagination, though her deadpan delivery of lines in her native drawl more than makes up for it.
Visually, the show is a treat, with puppetry adding to the spectacle. The set and costumes capture the kitschy aesthetic one would expect for a musical about a Disney villainess. Meanwhile, aerial choreography allows the cast to fully inhabit an undersea world, making the venue appear much larger than it actually is.
It wouldn’t be a show about Ursula without an infusion of fierce camp
Of course, it wouldn’t be a show about Ursula without an infusion of fierce camp. The production features voguing choreography straight out of 80s ball culture, alongside Julian Capolei’s androgynous and unapologetically queer Grimsby. And Ursula herself channels drag royalty in her wicked and fabulous numbers, with the Divine inspiration coming through loud and clear.
With Tim Gilvin’s cheeky musical reimagining of the Disney classic’s most well known hits pairing perfectly with the outstanding vocals, this is a production firing on all cylinders. Ultimately, Unfortunate manages to give Ursula the rich backstory she deserves, while playfully skewering the Disney mythology that birthed her and paying service to the character’s predominately queer fanbase.
Cruder than your average Disney-based tale but all the more delightful for it, this is a show that will leave your cheeks aching from laughter. If you’re looking for a wickedly camp time at the theatre that doesn’t hold back, take the plunge into Unfortunate‘s delightful undersea world.
Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch is playing at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant until 17 Febuary before embarking on a nationwide tour. See the official website for the full schedule and to book tickets.