Browse reviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2019

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

Fat Rascal Theatre

Genre: Comedy, Musical Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Underbelly, Bristo Square, Ermintrude


Low Down

new musical that takes a famous fairy tale and makes it edgy


Avenue Q meets Wicked meets The Little Mermaid. This musical uses all of those stylings to produce a stunning 70 minutes of a romp through a traditional fairy tale, but with very edgy presentation.

The story is based on Disney’s “Little Mermaid”, from the fairy tale Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. In the Disney version, a strong-willed teenage mermaid named Ariel wants to live on land, against the wishes of her domineering father, King Triton.  As teenagers do, she disobeys, goes ashore, and falls in love with a human prince. But to fit in, she makes a dangerous deal with the Sea Witch, Ursula. Ariel must relinquish her beautiful voice to become a human with legs. She and the prince fall in love, but fate intervenes, and things become complicated with the prince, his father, and her father.

In Unfortunate, we hear the Sea Witch’s side of the story.  She is the villain in the Disney story. But we learn more about her through this musical. She is cunning, a tough negotiator, a ruthless businesswoman, and wants things to go her way. She manipulates the people around her to serve her selfish purposes.  This Sea Witch is loud and brash, unashamedly plump and purple.  And she is sexy. The lines are filled with innuendos.

The show reminds you of the musical, Wicked, which is the backstory of the witches from the Wizard of Oz.  Unfortunate is an expansion on the Little Mermaid script, providing more character detail.

The actors are very well-cast.  Robyn Grant is scorching at the Sea Witch.  Her comic timing is impeccable. Her vocal chops are strong and well-suited to the songs, reminding me of a young Bette Midler. She is also the co-writer of the script and lyrics, with Daniel Foxx.  Allie Munro and Jamie Mawson brilliantly provide the voices and manipulation of the large, elongated puppets Flotsam and Jetsam, the moray eels that served as minions to the Sea Witch. They handily play many other sea characters, each with a different personality and accent. Katie Wells is the picture of both innocence and feistiness as the Little Mermaid.  Her facial expressions are as strong as you would see in an animated film, giving power to her scene where the Little Mermaid has lost her voice. Steffan Rizzi as the glittery-bearded King Triton displays a full range of acting skills, from showing strength as an immovable tyrant to delivering tenderness as a father.  All are terrific singers and physical theatre artists.  Composer Tim Gilvin has written very clever songs that are parodies of the Disney pieces, close enough that you think you are listening to music from the Disney film but just different enough to be considered tribute.

The simple stage dressing of glittery curtains and treasure chests works well with the creative lighting to set the many scenes, from sea to shore, from the castle to a shipwreck.

There are many secondary messages in the script.  Environment is a recurring theme. One of King Triton’s daughters choked on the plastic in the sea.  The characters talk of oceans dying and oil spills. Acceptance is an overarching theme. One character has to accept another who only speaks “fish”.  Ursula is not the fashion magazine body type but shows her strength of character, sending the message to look beyond the superficial in judging people.  There is an LGBTQ+ reference with gay eels.

The writing is top notch, ready for the West End.  There is not a weak moment in the script or acting.  We are captivated from beginning to end with the funny lines, the wonderful characters, the well-paced and perfectly composed songs, and the joy that translates from the cast to the audience.

Just a warning: this is a show for adults, not kids.