Tuesday, April 23

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch – The Lowry

Brash, bold and untold, Unfortunate is the story of (arguably) the best Disney villain ever made, Ursula the sea witch. It is the side of the classic 1989 story, The Little Mermaid, as never seen before.

The original character was inspired by the triple treat drag queen Divine, so drag culture has been intertwined with the villain from the very start. This musical parody brings the character right back to its roots with an outrageously camp new story.

The musical parody dives deep into what really happened all those years ago under the sea. We’re first introduced to a young Ursula Squirt, from a poor family in the depths of the ocean. We see her grow into an intellectual octo-woman and diva. Her relationship with King Triton was not as foretold; they explore their complex relationship, ultimately the crux of our story, in a romance that will change the perception of this evil mistress.

The best of this musical is the new story that reveals the villain’s past: in a similar vein to what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz, this new tale precludes the one we all know and love, intertwining both stories unexpectedly with cunning twists and turns. Exciting and new, the first half has the audience in fits of laughter from the offset. Witty and unapologetically herself, Ursula is plus sized and proud; taking on this iconic role is the wonderful Shawna Hamic (Orange Is The New Black, 1776 on Broadway), and she is the perfect homage to the original role, nailing the iconic, harrowing cackle.

Photo: Pamela Raith

Ariel is played by RuPaul Drag Race UK’s River Medway. River’s performance is perfectly hilarious, rough around the edges, but charming and ditzy. Desperately horny for a human man, Ariel as we’ve never seen her before explores the land on the hunt for her true love, who comes in an unexpected form. The cast as a whole is made up of a phenomenal ensemble of multi-role aficionados, particularly Allie Dart, whose transformations include Sebastian, the Chef and one of Ursulas gay minions amongst other smaller parts. Jack Gray also has the audience roaring with laughter with his many parts such as Grimsby and a particular favourite, Poseidon.

The parody misses no opportunity to mock Disney, from sampling timeless songs to mocking the emotional deaths that have been making audiences tearful for decades – most importantly mocking the controversial Kiss The Girl, which was adapted in the 2023 remake to remove perceived offensive and nonconsensual lyrics.

The nearly 3-hour production does feel lengthy and could be spared by less focus on the story we all know, and more exploration of the early Ursula days. However, this silly, saucy and sassy musical is a must see. Blurring the lines between adult panto, musical theatre and a drag show, it’s a modern musical embedding pop culture and laugh out loud comedy; a new style of musical theatre proving it has a place in our theatres and in our hearts.

Catch the Sea Witch at The Lowry until 2nd March tickets available – https://thelowry.com/whats-on/unfortunate-the-untold-story-of-ursula-the-sea-witch/

Reviewer: Alison Baines

Reviewed: 23rd February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.