Love birds . . .fishes? Robyn Grant as Ursula and Steffan Rizzi as King Triton. Pictures: Matt Cawrey

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

Patrick Centre

Birmingham Hippodrome


Who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh, with a witty script, clever songs and, let’s be honest, skilfully worked in bawdy smut? If we can include you in that then it’s Unfortunate for you.

That’s the musical, by the way, that’s its name, not unfortunate like in not fortunate because you are, well, sort of fortunate to see such a different, laugh a minute, inventive show.

Fat Rascal take Disney’s saccharine sweet, charming, inoffensive animated version of Hans Christian Andersen’s rather darker tale of The Little Mermaid and turn it on its gills with the real story of Ursula and our teenage princess, Ariel.

And our Ariel, far from being the sweet, independent, intelligent young woman to emerge from the Burbank studios in 1989, is an intellectually challenged, as in congenitally thick, 16-year-old who thinks she is 14 with an IQ that falls somewhere between plankton and jellyfish.

Like Disney’s Ariel, she is fascinated by humans, collecting their artifacts, which is a posh word for all the rubbish we dump in the sea, and she wants legs, tails being a bit of a drawback on land, so she can be like all the humans and walk among them.

What Disney omitted, probably for budget reasons, was that her main reason for wanting to be with humans was sex and her much anticipated, on her part, participation therein.


Katie Wells as Ariel with Jamie Mawson and Allie Munro as Flotsam and Jetsam

So, we get such classy numbers as I Wanna Be Where the Boys with D**ks Are, which perhaps gives us a period of reflection, as the Labour party would put it. If you can’t work out what the asterisks are . . . could it be ducks perhaps? . . . then this show is perhaps not for you,

If you work them out and get apoplexy, then see above. If, on the other hand you fill in the gaps and smile, or if nothing else, are intrigued, then take a deep breath and jump right on in. This isn’t one for maiden aunts – unless of course they got there by having too good a time . . .but that is another story. Age guidance is 14 plus - that's real 14 not Ariel's 14.

Ursula the sea witch is played by Robyn Grant, who also wrote the book and lyrics and is remarkably sexy if you are into Cephalopoda, which is a class of mollusc rather than a fetish in case you were wondering as Ursula is blessed with six tentacles and two legs,

She is a Hollywood style vamp, sassy, sexy and, let’s not beat about the bush (stop sniggering at the back) risqué bordering on good old-fashioned filth. She fills the stage with fun and sex appeal – which is not easy with a skirt of tentacles longer than her legs, but that lady manages it in style. What a glorious performance, Garland on speed, she had the audience eating out of her hand . . . fin . . . tentacle . . . who cares, you just had to love her.

Her love interest is Steffan Rizza as King Triton, which is something Disney omitted to mention. Perhaps that is because he is a bit of a wimp if we are honest, but strong enough to banish Ursula from Atlantica to the dark waters after she is wrongly accused of the murder of the sea cucumber princess. Something just snapped your honour!

He is aided by his right claw assistant, the orange trouser-suited Sebastian, the Irish crab, played by Allie Munro, who has a lovely voice, and who also pops up as the oh so sexy Vanessa, conjured up by Ursula to teach Ariel a lesson.


Allie Munro as the Irish crab, Sebastian

Ariel, now voiceless as part of her contract with Ursula for her humanisation, has fallen hook, line and tail in this case, for Prince Eric, whose romantic streak does not extend much past a view of, should we say lumpy jumpers, while his hormones explode at a hint of cleavage.

So, the arrival of the suitably endowed Vanessa means his affections, which rarely manage to reach above chest height, quickly switch from Ariel to the new pair on the block.

Eric, played upper class idiot style by Jamie Mawson, also plays a lot with the flute in his pocket (last warning for you lot at the back) and sings My Little Flute with innocent charm and even more innocent smut. Mawson, or at least his puppetted hand, is also Flounder, Ariel’s best friend.

Munro, with a quick change, slips in as his aide de camp Grimsby, to keep the fish jokes going.

And then we have Scuttle, the lecherous gull, Rizza in a scuffy feather coat, who fills Arial in (oh come on . . .) with erroneous info on humankind.

Which brings us to Ariel and Katie Wells in another wonderful performance, a real delight as the not very bright Essex bimbo who is 14 – no you are 16 dear – oh yeh. She is comedy gold as she sets out on her hunt for sex . . . with most of the blokes in the audience ready to volunteer if required.


Steffan Rizzi as the lecherous gull Scuttle

It has some fun songs, such as We didn’t make it to Disney which expresses a view of the type of characters that are deemed suitable for Walt’s empire, with ugly, gay, disabled and Jewish fish from the depths having their say, and the more telling (Just Ask Before You) Kiss the Girl, which in these days of #MeToo has a bit of bite to it.

There are also a steady stream of references to dying coral, plastic bags and the general rubbish dumped in the oceans. There is no preaching, no campaigning, not even any warning or condemnation – just creatures who live in the ocean mentioning what they have to live with every day. Underplayed, matter of fact, an every day tale of sea folk and oh so effective.

The set (Abby Clarke and Hugh Purves) is simple, giant whalebone arches and a couple of sea chests, along with puppets, the sinister eels Flotsam and Jetsam particularly effective,  the cast of five, or at least four of them, tentacles presumably being too sticky for quick changes,  playing a whole ocean of characters from the eels, to old kings, potential brides, weird fish, gulls and all manner of sea creatures with some remarkably fast changes.

The script is witty, clever, very funny with an underlying current of wonderfully worked in naughtiness. The music (Tim Gilvin) is lively and has that musical theatre style and confidence about it while the lyrics (Grant and Daniel Foxx) draw you in in all innocence then ballad becomes burlesque and bawdy at the drop of a fin.

This is wonderful musical theatre, and if you liked Avenue Q and its ilk you will lap this up. It has some truly hilarious moments, it is inventive, original and most of all, entertaining.

It describes itself as a musical parody, with Disney’s animated version being the fall guy. I must admit it is a film I haven’t seen, so it had to stand on its own two flippers, and stand it did. If you have seen the film you will no doubt see the parody. If you haven’t you will see a brilliant, funny, show, packed with gloriously daft entertainment. To 22-12-19

Roger Clarke


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