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Review: Unfortunate at Liverpool Playhouse ****

Fairytale ‘baddies’ get such a bad rap don’t they? But honestly, are they all really evil, or are some maybe just a bit, you know, misunderstood.

Wicked has successfully rehabilitated the reputation of the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’. And Unfortunate, a lovingly crafted musical parody which proved a smash hit when it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe, swims merrily in its wake to do the same job to tell the ‘untold story of Ursula the Sea Witch’. With tongue firmly in cheek.

In this Wicked under the waves, Ursula (Orange is the New Black’s Shawna Hamic) is the bright but misunderstood daughter of a toilet cleaner who is sneered at by the other sea creatures who populate Neptune’s (Jamie Mawson under a shaggy beard) riotously-led underwater kingdom.

All but her childhood schoolmate, the pretty-but-dim Prince Triton (Thomas Lowe) that is, who sees, and loves, the person behind the tentacles and dark magic.

Banished to the deep - well, deeper anyway – on a trumped-up charge of murder, Ursula creates her own kingdom of lost souls and (in a sly and very funny dig at The Little Mermaid) unphotogenic creatures who ‘didn’t make it to Disney’.

Here she stays, smarting at the injustice, until 20 years later the now King Triton seeks her out to help solve the problem of his daughter and heir, Ariel (River Medway of Drag Race fame) who longs to walk among humans on land rather than rule the watery world beyond.

But will Ursula’s plan succeed? Or just make her out to be the baddie yet again?

Above: Triton (Thomas Lowe) and Ursula (Shawna Hamic). Top: Hamic as Ursula in her underwater home. Photos by Pamela Raith

Writers Robyn Grant (who also directs with requisite audacity) and Daniel Foxx merrily channel – and gleefully send up - a range of genres and styles, and with composer Tim Gilvin they nod knowingly in the direction of other musicals, not only Wicked but also shows like Cabaret – Hamic’s Ursula is a terrific Emcee, Legally Blonde and Avenue Q.

It’s deliberately tasteless, often gloriously and hilariously so (although occasionally the laughs feel a tad too cheap even for parody) and the cast leave any inhibitions in the dressing room to deliver hugely enjoyable, no-holds-barred performances on land and in the sea.

Hamic prowls the stage, tentacles flying, a fiery feminist breaking the fourth wall to draw the audience into the story with sweary exclamations, and her scenes with Lowe’s harmless idiot Triton are a delight, particularly the preposterous 80s power ballad Sucking on You.

Above: Ariel (River Medway) dreams of being a human. Photo by Pamela Raith.

Medway (the professional persona of Chatham’s Dexter Clift) meanwhile is endearing and very watchable as the airheaded fishy princess who longs to be loved by a land-dweller – in this case in the form of Jamie Mawson’s similarly airheaded prince Eric, a man in permanent arrested development. But is he the human for her? And will there be happy ever afters all round?

Add in sea cucumber royalty, ‘gay’ eels, cancan-ing prawns, faux Voguing and a knife-wielding French chef, and let them loose on Abby Clarke’s versatile two-storey set which forms both Davy Jones’s locker and the bridge of a ship (Clarke also brings her vision to the costumes and puppet creatures), and it’s a whole load of fun.

A live band, perched on each side of the set, provides rollicking accompaniment for the 20-odd musical numbers. The lyrics range from deliberately idiotic to delightfully witty, although frustratingly, there are times when clarity is sacrificed for speed.


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