Photo: Pamela Raith

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch has been around for a little while now – following its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, we caught the 2022 production in London at the Underbelly Festival. It’s now returned – at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant – in an even bigger theatrical production. The set is more robust, the puppets look more impressive, the band sounds great – although it retains a Fringe-style lo-fi charm.

For those unfamiliar, it’s a musical parody of The Little Mermaid, telling the story from the perspective of Ursula, one of our favourite Disney villains. Some of the cast have returned from the previous production but there are a few new additions, including Drag Race UK star River Medway as Ariel and Shawna Hamic in the lead role of Ursula.

It’s a lot of fun – this high-camp, queer take on the original is packed with amusing jokes, over-the-top puppets, and a handful of genuinely excellent songs. There are some great performances too – Shawna Hamic is superb as Ursula, charismatic and a fantastic singer; Thomas Lowe is wonderfully camp as the dashing Triton; and Allie Dart as Sebastian (and a host of smaller roles too) is a charismatic performer, a joy to watch throughout. River Medway is a little one-note as Ariel, but absolutely has the bimbo brief nailed.

We should caveat this review by noting that we weren’t able to attend on press night, and that for the performance we saw, a couple of visual elements weren’t working. We’re told there is a flying sequence and that a disco ball is deployed – we believe to make the grand finale look a bit more spectacular, and we didn’t get to see these due to a last-minute technical issue. It was a shame to miss these as we’re sure it would have made the show’s conclusion even more of an entertaining send off.

As much as we’d have appreciated seeing these elements, they wouldn’t have offset our main issue with the show – it’s just way too long. It clocks in at 2hrs 45mins which it really doesn’t need to – both halves feel as though they overstay their welcome. Many of the songs are great but some feel like filler; there are lots of great jokes, but there are plenty that fall flat too. It feels as though there’s a really great 2hr show buried in here somewhere, but in its current form it feels bloated and drags a little. We also wanted to see a bit more Ursula – much of the time is spent retelling elements of The Little Mermaid that we already know, and we’d have appreciated more of a focus on our protagonist’s backstory.

Don’t get us wrong – it’s certainly not bad, in fact quite the opposite. Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch makes for a perfectly entertaining night out and we had a good time. It just feels as though there’s a fair amount of room for improvement with this show – it’s good, but not yet great.

GAY TIMES gives Ursula: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch – 3/5

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