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Marketed as a tell-all tale of sex, sorcery and suckers, Unfortunate has a subtitle that makes it pretty clear what the show is all about. Ursula, for those who’ve never had reason to swim alongside Disney’s many and varied animated movies, is a villainous sea witch and the main antagonist in the Mouse House’s 1989 feature, The Little Mermaid.

A Disney Diva par excellence, she’s been making waves in her very own stage musical for the past several years and here reappears in Birmingham (did she arrive via the canals?) in the form of Orange Is The New Black’s Shawna Hamic.

The show features strong language, partial nudity, scenes of a sexual nature and plenty of trademark filthy humour - so if you’re of a decidedly delicate disposition, you may want to go swim in a different sea.

A word of warning, just in case you don’t already know: Unfortunate is nothing at all like its family-friendly source material - the 1989 animated Disney movie The Little Mermaid - and may not be suitable for people of a sensitive disposition!

Following on from sell-out runs in Edinburgh and London, the renowned Fat Rascal Theatre production has embarked on its first UK tour. Written by Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx, with music by Tim Gilvin, the show tells the ‘true’ story of Ursula the Sea Witch, starting from her childhood and ending with what happens after The Little Mermaid’s final credits roll.

An adult-themed, defiantly queer musical parody, a celebration of queerness and diversity, pantomime-like in its staging and full of filth, four-letter words and sexual innuendos, this couldn’t be further from the stereotypical and usually saccharine-sweet Disney brand of entertainment!

Best known for her role in Netflix comedy-drama series Orange Is The New Black, plus-sized and proud Shawna Hamic is the human embodiment of Ursula, complete with an amazing tentacled dress. A fabulously strong lead, Hamic gives a wonderfully camp and commanding performance that brilliantly showcases her marvellous singing voice and excellent comic timing.

In the entertainment industry, including at Disney, plus-sized characters are often villainous in their intent, or are otherwise idiots to be scorned and laughed at. This oppressive societal view is challenged by Ursula, a positive role model who is intelligent, funny and not afraid to show her emotions as she narrates her own version of events through flashback scenes. Wronged and murderous, powerful and furious, the sea witch tells how she was bullied for being different, kept apart from her true love by betrayal and mistaken identity, and eventually banished.

River Medway, best known from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, might not have the greatest singing voice but is hilarious as Ariel. She portrays her as a self-absorbed mermaid who doesn’t care about her responsibilities as heir to the ocean’s throne. Instead, she just wants to be human and get a man. And she sings about how horny she is!

There are lashings of camp comedy in this outrageous, unapologetic and refreshingly hilarious show. Boasting clever, catchy songs, great storytelling and imaginative choreography - all executed with unbridled energy by an incredibly talented cast (there’s an on-stage band, too) - the production also features some wonderful sets and costumes. And then there’s the show's great use of puppetry, bringing to life the colourful world beneath the sea, including a cohort of misfit sea creatures who sing We Didn’t Make It To Disney. The song aims to highlight the ongoing lack of LGBTQIA representation in the Mouse House’s movie output.

Full of wit and fun with lots of vulgar moments, Unfortunate presents the character of Ursula in a whole new light. Maybe she and Ariel’s father were just trying to teach the little mermaid an important lesson about independence when she stole her voice? Whether the sea witch is deserving of any sympathy or not will be for you to decide. More important than that, though, is whether you leave the show having been thoroughly entertained. There’s every chance that you will - but we really can’t stress enough the fact that this is an adult show and is most definitely not for the fainthearted.

Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch was reviewed by Sue Hull on Wednesday 11 April at Birmingham Hippodrome, where it shows until Saturday (13 April). The production returns to the region in the summer, showing at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Thursday 11 to Sunday 14 July

4 Stars on Thu, 11 Apr 2024

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