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Festival Review: Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch ****

Scott Purvis reviews 'a laugh-out-loud funny' production.

Ursula was the worst thing to happen to the ocean since the plastic bag. But Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, an excellent new musical comedy by Fat Rascal Theatre, smashes open the hard-shell of this sassy sorceress and explains the reasons why the octopus became wicked.

Through song, puppetry and clever creative movement, this often X-rated show builds into a seventy-minute piece which celebrates, and challenges, our expectations of the classic Disney tale, revealing the hypocrisies of our modern world with humour and style.

Robyn Grant & Daniel Foxx's plot swims close to Disney's version of The Little Mermaid but dives to new depths to explain the witch's backstory. Ursula isn't just a prickly sea-urchin, the show suggests - she once was an ambassador sent to King Neptune's watery kingdom to court Prince Triton, forging peace for her people. However, a series of misdeeds against the purple princess led to her banishment, caging her up in the familiar watery hell of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's beloved musical.

The show's satirical songs sails so close to the wind of the Disney original that it's a wonder the copyright lawyers don't run a Jolly Roger up their flagpole and scream "piracy". The creators of Wicked, too, might turn green at the similar sound of the show's underscoring and the situations which form the narrative.

The pleasure of the parody here is in its filleting of the increasingly out-dated ideas present in the 1989 animated film. Here, "Kiss the Girl" becomes a hilarious ballad about consent, warning Prince Eric to "Ask the Girl" before lunging in for a kiss. The musical's book continues to hook issues of hypocrisy in 2019 whilst grinning like a clownfish - everything from fat shaming to anti-Semitism is explored with a great big Disney grin, although the show's message of female empowerment seems a little incongruous to the end of the fairy tale.

The cast are a versatile troupe, playing a while shoal of characters with energy and creativity. Robyn Grant, especially, is exceptional as Ursula, playing the witch like a wet Bette Davis. Her performance of the title track is an absolute joy, a RuPaul-esque club number which truly serves fish.

Unfortunate is a poppy bubble of a show, a cleverly-written and cleverly-staged ode to The Little Mermaid and all that is wrong with it. It is a laugh-out-loud funny piece of musical theatre which could undoubtedly make a splash playing in the off-West End, dredging up a catch of fans in the same way that former fringe favourite Six has.

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch performs at the Underbelly at Bristo Square at 1855 until August 26th.

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