The hilarious Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch – A Musical Parody brilliantly sends up The Little Mermaid at Southwark Playhouse Elephant
“I thought fat people were meant to be friendly”
As the publicity states, “Cruella told her side, and Maleficent’s had her moment” but both those villains got the big-screen treatment, defanging them in the name of explanatory context and consequently rendering them less interesting. Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch – A Musical Parody wisely takes a different route, utilising the comparative and relative freedom of the fringe stage (the show has already done Edinburgh) to be irreverently but affectionately fantastic as it plays up the queer accents in an unexpected manner.
Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx’s book takes The Little Mermaid as a starting point but wisely leaves it on the back-burner for the most part. We actually begin with Ursula and Triton as horny teenagers allowing the show to riff off any number of high school tropes, Tim Gilvin’s score drawing on 80s rock anthems brilliantly and Shawna Hamic and Thomas Lowe having a ball as lovers who society will not permit to be together, leading to the betrayal and banishment we’re familiar with.
The show then skips ahead 20 years to retell the events of The Little Mermaid from this refreshed perspective. We now meet Ariel (a very amusing River Medway) who is also a horny teenager (the couplet about vaginas and throats is possibly the funniest thing I’ve heard all year) and obsessed with the version of human life that involves pumpkin spice lattes and Pretty Little Thing. From here, Ursula’s Faustian bargain has a different resonance but even then, we still spin off in entertainingly unpredictable directions.
The script veers close to adult panto at times, sweeping in all sorts of contemporary cultural references, and is frequently laugh out loud funny. Grant also directs with real skill, navigating the sometimes unwieldly space of this stage well, aided well by Abby Clarke’s sensational set, costume and puppet design. The energetic multi-roling company never lose their enthusiasm either, which goes a long way to carrying the audience with them, Allie Dart and Julian Capolei particularly good in their many parts.