Thursday, July 18

Unfortunate – Bradford Alhambra

If you’re ever wondered why Ursula The Sea Witch was the bad guy in Disney smash hit The Little Mermaid then this raucous and gloriously camp revisionist musical reveals her true backstory.

It’s the latest prequel musical where the ‘villain’ gets their say, and what you think you know about them may be a little more complicated than it first appears  

Unfortunate takes us right back to her days as a poor octopus who falls in love with a weak fishy prince before a classic musical theatre betrayal sees her banished from the underwater kingdom. So this big haired, baddest bitch in the ocean hatches a plot to take revenge through the now King Triton’s daffy daughter Ariel who longs to be human. Yes, it keeps all the elements of the movie but ingeniously turns them on their head.

Famously the character of Ursula was based on Drag provocateur Divine, and Abby Clarke’s design ramps that up to the max, but it’s really refreshing to see a plus size performer lead a big show. Unfortunate is billed as a parody, but is actually a really affectionate, and often filthy, love letter to the absurdity of a form where people randomly burst into song, often for no apparent reason.

To make this show work you really need to love musical theatre, so Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx’s no holds barred book and lyrics are packed with the genre’s archetypes and plenty of in-jokes. Tim Gilvin’s orchestrations mine all the tropes from traditional big musical scores to disco and pop, like the wonderfully pompous power ballad To Be King where experienced West End performer Thomas Lowe’s Triton uses his classic musical theatre voice to unsubtly belts out the words. What makes it really funny is him flapping his arms around throwing in all the extravagant musical theatre gestures, which means you’ll never watch a jukebox musical in quite the same way.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

Orange Is The New Black star Shawna Hamic may channel the spirit of Divine, but she really makes her own this feminist reimagining of Ursula that has echoes of Angela Carter’s radical reinvention of the fairy tale. She sets out Ursula’s stall on opening number Nasty, and her masterful comic timing on some ribald gags cleverly disguises the damaged octopus beneath. Her duet with Lowe during the big number Sucking On You was very amusing, and incredibly powerful as both have top class voices.

This is a Queer friendly show that is rarely subtle, and let’s be honest if you’re more over the top than most straight musicals then it’s bound to be utterly bonkers. The choreography is camp as Christmas, puppets pop on and off, a randy monarch leers, a halfwit prince preens, gay eels offer advice, cultural and gender stereotypes abound, but it’s all done with tongue firmly in cheek as a live band pump out all the familiar musical theatre cliches, from power ballads to seemingly po faced love songs.

Allie Dart was great fun as Ariel’s mentor Sebastian before switching to a French chef for the amusing Les Poissons. Drag star River Medway is the latest to confidently transition from Ru Paul’s TV world to the stage playing the previously saintly Ariel as a thick Essex girl. She almost stole the show with the hilarious naughty showstopper Where The Dicks Are, and the subject matter is exactly what you think it might be. Julian Capolei vogued and strutted their way through Vanessa much to a full house’s delight.

There are times in the show where the sound lets the cast down on big ensemble numbers like the caustic We Didn’t Make It To Disney, so in the fuzzy mix you lose some of the lyrical barbs, but the lively ensemble worked hard to keep the relentless craziness going.

Somewhere in drag heaven Divine would be looking down with great pride on a big hearted show that ribs musical theatre with great fondness, and celebrates diversity and being your true self as a positive force rather than something to be feared.

Unfortunate is at Bradford Alhambra Theatre until Saturday 7th April. To book 01274 432000 or www.bradford-theatres.co.uk

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 5th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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