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Theatre Review: Unfortunate – The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

Have you ever wondered why Disney villains were so bad and what made them that way? Unfortunate lets us explore the origin story of the biggest baddy from Under the Sea.

Unfortunate – The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch stars Shawna Hamic (Orange is the New Black, 1776 on Broadway) as ‘Ursula’ and River Medway (RuPaul’s Drag Race UK) as ‘Ariel’. The production is running until Saturday 25 May at Blackpool Grand Theatre.

Are you someone who grew up with Disney princesses? Do you secretly still love singing along to ‘Part of this World’ but think you’ve maybe outgrown the childish charm of the sweet, fairytale story? Then this may be the perfect show for you – it’s the familiar Little Mermaid story, with a camp, cabaret, adult panto style twist. The show arrives in Blackpool as part of the UK Tour, after rave reviews from Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Just as the popular musical Wicked explores the untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West, the Unfortunate parody musical allows us to find out why Ursula becomes so bad.  We get to meet teenage Ursula, share her young love and ultimate banishment. There’s some cheeky parodies of the well-known Little Mermaid classics, alongside an upbeat modern musical score with a good mix of rock anthems, pop songs and love ballads that will get stuck in your head.

It’s definitely more adult themed and Ursula sets the tone of the show by greeting us with an expletive filled message to get us started. This is followed by more of the same dialogue, adult humour and innuendo throughout, so only suitable for big kids – you would need to leave the little ones at home!  

Shawna Hamic is a powerhouse vocalist who confidently leads the show as Ursula and shows us the complexity of the misunderstood sea witch. Strong vocals are also provided by Tom Lowe as Triton and their duet, ‘Sucking on You’ showcases both of their vocal ranges. River Medway provides a fun ‘TOWIE’ version of Ariel, complete with Essex accent and teenage attitude. They are supported by a talented cast, many of whom play multiple roles throughout the show, switching characters and accents with seamless fluidity.

On the whole, a fun, camp evening. Don’t be the poor unfortunate soul that misses out!

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Shawna and River prior to the show, to ask them a few questions about the show:-

What made you want to be involved in this production and what did you find most exciting about it?

RIVER – It seemed like a super fun show! It combines everything I love; drag, comedy and musical theatre! It’s great that I get to play a few characters too as it keeps it interesting.

SHAWNA – I have always loved Ursula. She’s my favourite Disney villain so a chance to play her is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. And the chance to perform in the UK is another dream come true.

A lot of children dream of being a Disney princess. Is this a dream role for you? How did you prepare for this? 

RIVER – I actually definitely went through a Little Mermaid obsession phase when I was younger! I actually used to work in Disneyland Paris as a parade performer and was always jealous of the girls being princesses so it’s very exciting to play this parody version of Ariel.

How do you prepare to become a Sea Witch?

SHAWNA – Well I feel like everyone has both the light and the dark inside of them. So I just let my dark side out more than usual.

How has this experience differed from your work on Drag Race? 

RIVER – I can honestly say I think this is the only experience in my career that has come close to being as challenging but equally rewarding.

People may be more familiar with you from your work on ‘Orange is the New Black’ – how does working in theatre compare to TV? Which do you prefer? 

SHAWNA – They are very different actually. In theatre you have to act for the back row of the balcony whereas in TV/Film the camera is right next to you and can read the smallest of reactions on your face. I do approach both mediums from a place of being grounded in the character’s truth first and foremost. So in that way they are similar.

If you could play any other Disney character, who would it be and why?

RIVER – Lumière in Beauty and the Beast! It’s a great flamboyant character with great songs and a French accent, what’s not to love?

SHAWNA – I think playing Quasimodo from Hunchback of Notre Dame would be an incredible challenge. Or Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

What is your favourite scene or line from the show?

SHAWNA – I have the best time performing the duet Suckin’ on You with my amazingly talented and handsome Triton – Tom Lowe. Makes me happy every single show getting to work with him.

What do you hope audiences take away from their ‘Unfortunate’ experience?

RIVER – A message of love, body positivity and acceptance. And of course a laugh at dirty jokes and a tune stuck in your head.

SHAWNA – Our show is fun and fishy and sexy and fabulous. We want you leaving our show empowered to be exactly who you are and know that you are perfect in what you bring to the world. So come have a fun night at the theatre!

Unfortunate is at The Grand Theatre until 25th May

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