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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Unfortunate - The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch Review | The Lowry | Manchester


This live-actioned reimagining of The Little Mermaid from Ursula’s perspective is stuffed full of jokes, pop tracks and neat effects. But when it comes to the message, the disco diva is clear, what happened under the sea to the self-indulgent Arial, was not the whole story.  


Writers Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx fuse their talents to raise this shiny, contemporary musical into a memorable, rewatchable treat that plunders the depths of Ursula’s character to uncover the real motivations and the makings of the notorious villain. The snarky storytelling is boosted by its upbeat score, with songs including, Nasty, Sucking On You, and Unfortunate that play into Ursula's inner desires and a lack of recognition for her talents.  


Ursulla’s tell-all tale strikes a balance between giving fans of the 1989 film Disney easter eggs alongside layers of its lovable characters, but the production's darker humour allows the parody to forge its own path. Shawna Hamic’s (Orange is the New Black) frank delivery of Ursula's cutting one-liners and home truths ensures her redemption story is built on a sinful foundation and Hamic’s commanding performance is a joy to watch.  


This show is placed in the Lowry’s Quays theatre where Grant, who also directs, takes advantage of the intimate space by centring the audience in the bowels of a ship. Complete with neon lighting, an immense disco ball and a backing band, the bedazzled underwater world stays ready for a party. As Hamic pushes power ballads and parody tracks with her love interest and alleged nemesis, the world around her is brought together by Abby Clarke. The designer brings Ursula's iconic image to life using some creative magic and smartly used sunken treasures that keep the large ensemble cast sparkling throughout the show. This is very much an ensemble piece, keeping Triton (Thomas Lowe), Arial and Sebastian (Allie Dart) front and centre for the ride, in which many of Dart’s scene-stealing moments push the story along when Ursula narrates from the sidelines.  


This is a meaty production, as its smart set design layers in extra jokes, hidden reveals and allows you to appreciate the band's performance alongside the show. There is a merger of high-tech underwater puppets, manky sock puppet soul designs and organza quilted costumes that are delightfully crafty, making many of the campy musical numbers pop as cabaret performances. Arial’s (River Medway Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK) solo is hysterical and underscores Unfortunate’s loving tease of the Disney original.  


Despite the soundtrack stating, We Didn’t Make It To Disney, the original Ursula was partly inspired by the drag queen Divine (known for playing Tracy’s mum in Hairspray 1988 and Pink Flamingos) but The Untold Story of Ursula amends its villains grand, spinsters' image. Hamic plays Ursula as a hardened and straight-talking outcast, playing against Lowe’s naive and beloved Triton. Combined, their duets are powerfully funny, making their chemistry and their life choices a lot easier to understand throughout the under-the-sea adventure. 


Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch melds a potent elixir that will draw audiences into its spell. The glamour, witty lines, catchy soundtrack and wondrously villainous style are lacking in current Disney villains but fortunately, this musical parody has the cure.  

Tickets are available via the Lowry link


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