Unfortunate at Southwark Playhouse
Having seen Unfortunate at The Edinburgh Festival 2019 and loving it I was so excited to see how the show had developed in the intervening years and discover what a longer version of the show looked like.
As I said in my earlier review Unfortunate does to the Little Mermaid what Wicked did to The Wizard of Oz, just maybe with an 18+ rating. Unfortunate take the story you think you know and turns it on its head. Unfortunate reveals that Ursula and King Triton grew up together and eventually became lovers. However when Triton announced this at at a Ball thrown for him to pick his bride, Triton’s father puts an end to thei relationship in a Machiavellian way and Ursula is banished to the deep waters. If this wasn’t enough Ursula’s treatment of Ariel is at the bequest of her father in order to ensure that she is ready to take the throne.
I’m a big fan of flipping well known stories on their head and Unfortunate does this masterfully. The Ursula/Ariel perception is reversed as Ariel is turned into a basic bitch obsessed with how she looks and woefully unaware as to the value of her voice. Ursula in the other hand is a strong female fighting for the survival of those living in the sea and battling against people’s perception of how a woman should look, or indeed how much she should weigh. This gives Unfortunate a brilliant way in to commentate on many issues whilst still making the audience laugh. The script is witty with numerous wry observations, for example Ursula states if a man had been as ruthless as her he would have been given an OBE!
The script is laugh out loud funny although it is far from a family friendly show. It goes past innuendo and often the humour is driven by jokes about sex and how shall we put it….Ariel’s motivation for meeting human men. This is no bad thing but it is something that may prevent the shoe from having a life outside of fringe or touring productions (not that the West End should be or is the goal for all) and may be something to be mindful of if you intend in going with someone of a sensitive disposition.
The music is very witty with razor sharp lyrics. They all have the audience laughing before realising that many of them have a more serious message. Ask the Girl, set to the familiar tune of Kiss The Girl, is all about gaining a woman’s consent and Make it to Disney tells the tale of those who don’t have the right look or accent for the Disney movies! Unfortunate has added new songs since their Fringe performance but I have to admit that it is the original material that shines the brightest. Once point that may assist is the sound balance, at times some of the lyrics got lost due to the sound balance and the band overpowering the vocals and with lyrics this clever you really do want to hear every word.
The cast were superb with most of them multi-roling. Shawna Hamic played Ursula and has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand…well tentacle, very quickly. Her powerhouse voice is undeniable but more importantly how she manages to straddle the hero/villain line with ease. River Medway played Ariel herself and hit the nail on the head when portraying her vacuousness. Allie Dart played Sebastian as well as numerous other roles throughout the show including Collette the Chef and her quick movements and character changes during Les Poissons was a simple but very effective way to gain a lot of laughs. Julian Capolei also gives a star tun as Vanessa, Ursula’s shape shifted form sent to show Ariel just how fickle Eric is. Capolei is a whirlwind on stage in this part and their energy is so infectious in this part that you cant help but to love them.
Abby Clarke is responsible for much of the shows ‘look’ heading up set, costume and puppet design. The puppets look wonderful and the costumes cleverly work in elements of the underwater characters into the costume. The set itself served the show well however it appeared that it was mostly designed and directed to be see from straight on, meaning that the audience at the sides struggled to see some of the action on stage.
Unfortunate is a laugh out loud retelling of this classic with clever social commentary. I will never look at the Little Mermaid the same way again….in fact I think I prefer this version.
Unfortunate is running at Southwark Playhouse until 17rh February 2024. To find out more about this show and to book tickets you can visit their website here.