Home » London Theatre Reviews » Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch | Churchill Theatre

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch | Churchill Theatre

Unfortunate claims to relate the untold story of Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. It is billed as a “musical parody” and in fact, many of the songs (Tim Gilvin) bear a passing similarity to those in the movie, but a better description might be “adult pantomime” as the language and subject matter are often crude and a “16+” warning is included on the publicity.

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch.
Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch. Pamela Raith Photography.

Conceived in 2018 over “a generous glass of wine” (book and lyrics Robyn Grant and Daniel Fox) the show was first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 where, with a cast of five, it garnered positive reviews and an award nomination. Revamped for a cast of ten (actually nine at the performance under review – presumably someone was indisposed) with “hot pop soundtrack and trademark filthy humour” it is in the midst of a UK tour.

Unfortunate follows the Disney Diva Ursula as she gives her take on what really happened all those years ago under the sea. As the press release has it “… the legendary queer queen is ready to spill, in this tell-all tale of sex, sorcery and suckers… this year’s hottest night out“.

Shawna Hamic is Ursula: big, bold and brassy, commanding the stage, as she should, belting out her songs with gusto, as she should, and shouting all her dialogue. River Medway manages to find some finesse in the role of Ariel, especially in the songs, and looks suitably glamorous.

Thomas Lowe excels as Triton, exhibiting a powerful singing voice and commanding the stage with his presence as does Allie Dart (Sebastian). She has the most attractive singing voice in the company and uses her music more expressively than some of the rest of the talented cast, not always belting at full volume! Her acting is also more subtle (though subtle is the last word that applies to anything in this musical!) and she tries to find some motivation and depth in her role. Julian Capoli is often amusing as Grimsby as is Jamie Mawson as Eric.

The easy-to-tour set has been imaginatively designed by Abby Clarke to give several performance areas. She has also created imaginative costumes and puppets. Melody Sinclair’s Choreography is simple yet effective but could do with some attention as it sometimes looked under-rehearsed.

The main problem with the whole production is the sound (Lucy Baker-Swinburn). The constant amplification is so powerful that the entire show is very loud, with a continual “echo” effect, so that everyone appears to be shouting all the time and it is very difficult to hear the words both in the songs and the dialogue. This in turn means that it becomes wearying to try to follow what is going on, let alone appreciate the humour. This is a great shame as there is a very hard-working cast here, plus an excellent five-piece onstage band led by Arlene McNaught, trying to put over a show that has no light and shade at all.

Unfortunate is probably best enjoyed by those who are very familiar with Disney’s The Little Mermaid – somewhere there is a good show here trying to escape!

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

Shawna Hamic (Orange is the New Black1776 on Broadway) leads the cast as Ursula, opposite Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK star River Medway as Ariel. They are joined by Thomas Lowe (Triton), Allie Dart (Sebastian), Jamie Mawson (Eric), Julian Capolei (Grimsby) and Corrina Buchan, Jack Gray, Jamie McKillop and Milly Willows in the ensemble.

The smash-hit show is written by Robyn Grant (who also directs) and Daniel Foxx, with music, arrangements and orchestrations by Tim Gilvin. The musical features set, costume and puppet design by Abby Clarke, choreography by Melody Sinclair, additional orchestrations and music production by Nikki Davison and Joe Davison for Auburn Jam, musical supervision and direction by Arlene McNaught, associate musical supervision by Rachel Murphy, lighting design by Adam King, content sound design by Lucy Baker-Swinburn, system sound design by Oscar Thompson and Will Thompson, flying and effects by John Maddox for Suspended Illusions, make-up design by Maya Lewis and Christina Semertzaki, intimacy and fight direction by Claire Llewellyn for RC-Annie, production management by Titch Gosling, assistant direction by Stephenson Ardern-Sodje and Eliza Beth Stephens, costume supervision by Sian Clare, prop supervision by Freya Espie and puppets built by Aled Williams. The band is completed by Dejeanté Hinks on guitar and Becky Slater on drums.

Cruella told her side, and Maleficent’s had her moment. Now the legendary queer queen is ready to spill, in this tell-all tale of sex, sorcery and suckers. With a new script and production, the latest version of this hit show is bigger, bolder and sexier than ever before. It’s time to take the plunge and dive into this year’s hottest night out.

Churchill Theatre, Bromley
18 to 22 June 2024, then continues on UK tour until 14 July 2024


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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