Stroll down a non-descript road in Earl’s Court over the next month and you might just spot the iconic purple cow of the Underbelly. The entertainment company has two locations in London with a packed programme until the end of July, when the festival makes its way to Edinburgh. It’s worth going even if you don’t have theatre tickets, with food stalls (I sampled a generous portion of chips), a bar, lots of picnic tables and a great playlist.
There’s been a few villain origin stories now, with Disney telling Cruella’s story and Wicked charming audiences around the world for years. Sadly, Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch. didn’t quite live up to the hype. While the first section of the musical explores Ursula before she turned wicked, the bulk of the musical is a crude re-imaging of Disney’s The Little Mermaid – this isn’t one to bring the kids to. Whilst a lot of fun at times, more of Ursula’s un-told story could have been explored. We already know what happens to Ariel, so Ursula could have had much more stage time!
Things aren’t helped by some significant sound issues during the performance, bad enough that for the majority of the first half it was really challenging to make out the lyrics in the songs. This is obviously a big issue for a musical, when the songs drive so much of the narrative. The dialogue either side of the songs is very funny, so there’s obviously many more jokes lost in the fog of a band that’s too loud with mics that were too boomy. It’s a shame that the poor sound mars the performance, as the show itself is a lot of fun. So it would have been great to hear more of Ursula’s untold story.
The cast though are exceptional, Elliotte Williams-N’Dure is a fantastic Ursula. Her voice is stunning, bringing a surprising amount of heart to the role of the sea witch. She holds the whole room in the palm of her hand whenever she appears. And Miracle Chance is a very amusing Ariel – her facial expressions alone deserve a round of applause.
There is some ingenious puppetry created by Abby Clarke and Hugh Purves; swooping seagulls flying at the opening of the show, Ursula’s deep ocean friends and Eric’s loyal canine pal. The cast hilariously deal with some puppetry mishaps, including a head detaching from a body at one point, not intentional but all taken in good humour by puppet masters and audience alike.
It seems remiss to talk about a musical without mentioning the music, but as the sound quality was less than ideal it wouldn’t feel like a fair observation to judge it at this performance. There are some lovely references to the source material, with subtle melodic changes jolting us from a Disney fest. There’s also some amusing choreography during the songs, which would probably have been even funnier if the lyrics were more audible. At times there’s a palpable sense that moments of comedy had been missed.
This show has so much potential, from it’s fabulous lead to its clever puppetry and beautiful set. Yet the sound issues for my visit were just too difficult to ignore. Hopefully this is something that can and will be fixed, allowing this show to live up to its true potential.
Book and Lyrics by: Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx
Music by: Tim Gilvin
Directed by: Robyn Grant
Choreography by: Melody Sinclair
Musical Direction by: Arlene McNaught
Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch is playing at Underbelly Earls Court until 16 July. Further information and bookings can be found here.