Unfortunate
Image Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Unfortunate: the Untold Story of Ursula the Sea-Witch, in review

Before watching the show, I was, in all honesty, sceptical about the plot of Unfortunate. We seem to have had a surge in the last decade or so – kicked off by the renewed popularity of Wicked – of villain origin story adaptations, including Maleficent, Cruella, The Joker, and the new prequel to The Hunger Games, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes about President Snow. I was concerned that this genre was beginning to wear a bit thin. Nonetheless, I put my scepticism aside, wanting to go in blind.

I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. Unfortunate is hilariously filthy and wonderfully transgressive, and I laughed much harder than I expected to.

Produced by the Fat Rascal Theatre, the show has experienced complete sell out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe and across the UK. I’m not surprised. Described as the ‘legendary queer queen’, when Unfortunate’s Ursula promises to bring her tell-all tale of ‘sex, sorcery and suckers’, she does not lie. Depending on where you sit, you can see Unfortunate for £24-30 as a student, and for £28-34 full-price.

From the costume to the set design, each aspect of the performance seems to meta-theatrically revel in its own ridiculousness. The entire show is saturated with sex and sophomoric humour; in the first act eels wearing harnesses slide onto the stage, Ursula’s surname is revealed to be ‘Squirts’, and you can even pick up a tote bag with the slogan ‘Sucking On You’ after the show, if you fancy it. Throughout you can sense a tangible, but simultaneously farcical, sexual tension on stage. Unfortunate is, therefore, unlikely to be a show you would bring your grandma to. That being said, the demographic of the audience was much broader than I had expected, which was really refreshing.

Unfortunate features Orange is the New Black’s Shawna Hamic as Ursula. Inspired by the drag queen Divine, Hamic is wonderful as Ursula, oozing sex and empowerment, and boasting an incredibly powerful and versatile voice. The show also features RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’s River Medway as Ariel. Adopting an overexaggerated, stereotypical Essex accent, Ariel spends the first act seeking her Prince Charming who, in this case, is a man not with a tail or two legs, but three. The crudeness and irony undercutting the whole performance was fantastic.

This fiery show only has ten cast members, and their ability to transition into different costumes and characters was incredibly impressive. A personal favourite was the transformation from a cis-male sea captain into a drag, self-proclaimed Tory mistress called Vanessa (Julian Capolei).

Amid the comedy, however, are some genuinely very catchy, very well-written rock anthems, alongside some beautiful classical pieces. The energy that the cast provided while dancing was mesmerising. I feel Allie Dart was particularly impressive being the resident director, as well as taking on the dual roles of Sebastian (who adopted an Irish accent instead of a Jamaican one) and a sexy lesbian French chef. Dart was spellbinding in her ability to metamorphise into different characters at the flick of a switch.

I think what makes Unfortunate so unforgettable is its ability to laugh at itself. This show could never be accused of taking itself too seriously, instead it basks in its blatant overstatement and frivolity. I could not recommend it more.

Unfortunate is at The Oxford Playhouse until the 27th of April.

Image credit: Pamela Raith Photography