REVIEW: Unfortunate, The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday ****

Filthy mouthed and fabulously fiendish: Shawna Hamic’s Ursula with her underwater co-stars in Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

IN the introductory words of Robyn Grant & Daniel Foxx (book & lyrics) and Tim Gilvin (music), Ursula is “the baddest bitch in the ocean and the undisputed Queen of Villains. A businesswoman. Plus-size and proud. Her hair is big, her chutzpah bigger and yet her screentime is woefully small”.

Cue Unfortunate, her frank, fruity, fabulously rude riposte to Disney’s disservice to a devilish diva deserving of centre stage in The Little Mermaid, one allegedly inspired by Divine, the Baltimore actor, singer and drag queen, of Hairspray fame, but so much more so in The Untold Story of Ursula The Sea Witch.

This is Ursula in “all her octo-glory”, as New York actress Shawna Hamic describes her, revelling in her British theatre debut, now on tour after a ten-week London run. Part gossipy narrator, part mistress of ceremonies, totally outré queen of the potty-mouthed putdown, her Ursula is as lippy as pre-TV fame Lily Savage or Terence Stamp’s Bernadette Basenger in The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert.

Unfortunate was conceived one dark and stormy night in 2018 as Grant and Foxx discussed their favourite post-dinner topic: fabulous evil witches. In particular, Ursula. Brash, yes. Mean, a tad. But evil? Up for debate.

“Unapologetically fat, unapologetically loud and unapologetically hot; a caring mother to two gay eels and a connoisseur of the bold rep lip, Ursula is, if anything, a role model,” they contended.

River Medway’s Ariel and Shawna Hamic’s Ursula on the riverside in York

Leeds-born, East 15 Acting School-trained Grant always stood out as an original voice in her York theatrical performances, not least the Fat Rascal Theatre musicals she brought to the Theatre Royal Studio. One day, we may yet see her Mother Shipton show here, but who can predict when?!

By 2019, Grant was starring as Ursula in Unfortunate with six spindly whale bones and foam fish in a lecture theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe, since when this fearless musical parody has grown and grown into this fully formed touring version with a cast twice size of the original. New songs too.

The show is in very rude health indeed, still true to its original principles of wanting its “comedy to feel transgressive and naughty, the references punchy and queer, and the staging ambitious”, in the way that Hair, The Rocky Horror Show, Rent and Spring Awakening were once pioneering too.

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods and Stephen Schwartz & Winnie Holzman’s Wicked have re-told stories with imaginative, inventive, radical, tables-turned brio previously. Now Unfortunate does likewise with delicious irreverence and a raft of colourful sea-world characters, who put the naughty into nautical with waspish, combative dialogue and an exuberant Gilvin score that revels in drag, disco, pop and musical theatre tropes, as varied and impactful as Six!

Robyn Grant: Director and co-writer of Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

In a show that “celebrates the individual in a silly, joyful, beautifully chaotic explosion of fun and a chance to shine a light on those of us who didn’t make it to Disney”, not only Hamic’s “glorious  monstrosity” shines.

Under Ursula’s dark magic, and through the prism of a riotously queer musical, the bubble of Disney’s animated stereotypes is pricked, each protagonist breaking free in full force as Atlantica goes absurdist, whether RuPaul’s Drag Race star River Medway’s imeptuous mermaid Ariel, Thomas Lowe’s rebellious Triton, Allie Dart’s Sebastian and better still Chef Louis, James Mawson’s fickle Prince Eric or Julian Capolei’s anything-but-grim Grimsby.

Abby Clarke’s ship-shape set, costumes and puppet designs add to the joy, as do Melody Sinclair’s snappy choreography and Arlene McNaught’s exuberant band, all steered with glee and ribaldry by director Grant.

She was always one to watch, and what a joy to see her riding the crest of a wave with Unfortunate, a camp cruise of sex, sorcery and suckers where, unlike around Britain’s coastline, only the humour, not the sea, is filthy.

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight and Friday; 2.30pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office:

More Things To Do in York and beyond, whether Unfortunate or fortunate to be here. Hutch’s List No. 24, from The Press

Swing when you’re singing: Ryedale Primary Choir schoochildren doing their vocal exercises for Across The Whinny Moor

MUSICAL moorland mermaids and a villainous sea witch, motion in art and a Mozart mass, vintage Pink Floyd and a Louise Brooks silent movie set up Charles Hutchinson’s week ahead.

Ryedale Festival community event of the week: Across The Whinny Moor, St Peter’s Church, Norton, today, 4pm

THE world premiere of the Community Song Cycle: Across The Whinny Moor follows the trail of North Yorkshire’s Lyke Wake Walk, meeting cheeky hobs, angry mermaids, resourceful giants and wise witches along the way. 

The all-age cast for a walk through stories and songs by John Barber and Hazel Gould includes the schoolchildren of the Ryedale Primary Choir, the Ryedale Voices, Harmonia and The RyeLarks choirs, Kirkbymoorside Town Junior Brass Band, storyteller Rosie Barrett and mezzo-soprano soloist Victoria Simmonds, conducted by Caius Lee. Box office: 

Tim Pearce’s poster artwork for Life Forms In Motion at Blossom Street Gallery

Six of the best: Life Forms In Motion, Blossom Street Gallery, Blossom Street, York, until June 30

SIX Yorkshire artists give individual responses to the challenge of interpreting the motion of life forms in a range of static media. In a nutshell, time and space condensed into single, dynamic images.

Taking part are Tim Pearce, painting and sculpture; Cathy Denford, painting; Jo Ruth, printmaking; Adrienne French, painting; Mandy Long, ceramic sculpture, and Lesley Peatfield, photography. Opening hours: Thursday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm; Sundays, 10am to 3pm.

Robert Hollingworth: On baton duty at the University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra’s concert at York Minster tonight

Classical concert of the week: University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra, York Minster, tonight, 7.30pm

UNDER the direction of Robert Hollingworth and John Stringer, the University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra perform Mozart’s ‘Great’ Mass in C minor, widely considered to be among his supreme choral works.

This will be complemented by a selection of works by Anton Bruckner, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Austrian composer’s birth, including the Te Deum, “the pride of his life”. Box office: 01904 322439 or

Across The Fields To The Sea, by John Thornton, from his Kentmere House Gallery exhibition

“Favourite artist” of the week: John Thornton, Across The Fields To The Sea, Kentmere House, Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York

BORN in York and now living in Selby, seascape and landscape artist John Thornton has opened his latest show, Across The Fields To The Sea, at his regular York gallery.

“John is everyone’s favourite painter,” says gallery owner and curator Ann Petherick. “I’m delighted he has produced a new and exciting collection of paintings of Askham Bog and Skipwith Common woodlands and meadows and the occasional seascape, inspired by his travels in Yorkshire since the end of Covid.” Opening hours: First weekend of each month, 11am to 5pm; every Thursday, 6pm to 9pm; any other time by appointment on 01904 656507 or 07801 810825.

Louise Brooks in Diary Of A Lost Girl, showing at the NCEM on Tuesday

Film event of the week: Diary Of A Lost Girl (PG), with pianist Utsav Lal, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, June 11, 7.30pm

TRAILBLAZING New York raga pianist Utsav Lal improvises his live score to accompany Diary Of A Lost Girl, a rarely shown gem of German silent cinema starring American icon Louise Brooks.

Presented by Northern Silents, G W Pabst’s 1929 film traces the journey of a young woman from the pit of despair to the moment of personal awakening. Box office: 01904 658338 and at

Sex, sorcery and suckers: Shawna Hamic’s filthy-humoured Ursula in Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch. Picture: Pamela Raith

Musical discovery of the week: Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch, Grand Opera House, York, June 11 to 15, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

AFTER a hit London season, Yorkshire writer-director Robyn Grant heads north with her raucously rude, wickedly camp parody musical Unfortunate, wherein Disney diva Ursula, the villainous sea witch, rules the waves and waves the rules.

New York actress Shawna Hamic’s Ursula gives her filthy-humoured take on what really happened all those years ago under the sea in a bawdy tale of sex, sorcery and suckers. Age recommendation: 16+, on account of strong language, partial nudity and scenes of a sexual nature. Box office:

Courtney Broan as Ado Annie in Pickering Musical Society’s Oklahoma!

American classic of the week: Pickering Musical Society in Oklahoma!, Kirk Theatre, Pickering, June 11 to 15, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

LUKE Arnold directs Pickering Musical Society in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 love story of Curly (Marcus Burnside) and Laurie (Rachel Anderson), set in the sweeping landscapes of the American heartland. 

Further roles go to Courtney Broan as Ado Annie, Stephen Temple as Will Parker, Michael O’Brien as Mr Carnes and Rick Switzer-Green as AliHakim, joined by dancers from the Sarah Louise Ashworth School of Dance. Box office: 01751 474833 or

Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets: Re-visiting Pink Floyd at York Barbican

Rock gig of the week: Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets, York Barbican, June 12, 7.45pm

NICK Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets follow up their April 2022 appearance at York Barbican with Wednesday’s date on their Set The Controls Tour.

Once more, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason will be joined by Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp, bassist Guy Pratt, guitarist Lee Harris and keyboardist Dom Beken to perform vintage Pink Floyd material. Box office:   

The poster artwork for Calamity Jane, starring Carrie Hope Fletcher, on tour at Grand Opera House next spring

Show announcement of the week: Carrie Hope Fletcher in Calamity Jane, Grand Opera House, York, April 29 to May 3 2025

IN the week when Nikolai Foster’s production of An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical is on tour at the Grand Opera House, the York theatre announces the booking of another show with the North Yorkshire director at the helm, this one bound for the West End.

Three-time WhatsOnStage Best Actress in a Musical winner Carrie Hope Fletcher will star in the whip-crackin’ musical as fearless Dakota gun-slinger Calamity Jane. “She is one of those roles that doesn’t come around all too often,” she says. “She’s action, romance and comedy all packed into one character, and I can’t wait to take on the challenge of filling her shoes.” Box office:

How Unfortunate became good news for The Little Mermaid’s villainous Ursula, Robyn Grant and Shawna Hamic

Shawna Hamic, centre, in all her “octo-glory” as Ursula, the sea witch, in Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch. Picture: Pamela Raith

IN the wake of a ten-week London run and the York Pride celebrations, the musical parody Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch arrives at the Grand Opera House, York, next week with its queer queen tales of sex, sorcery and suckers.

Co-written and directed by Leeds-born Robyn Grant, who cut her teeth on the York musical theatre scene, this rude, riotous riposte to Walt Disney’s 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid revels in the lead performance of Broadway actress Shawna Hamic, playing opposite RuPaul’s Drag Race UK star River Medway’s Ariel.

Combining the “trademark filthy humour” of Grant and Daniel Foxx’s script with an original hot pop soundtrack, arrangements and orchestrations by Tim Gilvin, Unfortunate finds Disney diva Ursula giving her take on what really happened all those years ago under the sea.

Six Off West End Theatre Award nominations have come the way of Unfortunate.  “If you hate it, it’s all my fault,” jokes writer-director Robyn Grant of her 2019 creation.

“I began making my own work after training as an actor at East 15 Acting School, where I started exploring writing and directing and wrote my first show, Buzz: A Musical History of the Vibrator in my second year.”

She toured with her company Fat Rascal Theatre. “We brought small-scale musicals to York Theatre Royal Studio, including a gender-swap Beauty And The Beast,” she recalls. “We liked doing parodies and flipping things, and off the back of that, we started thinking about Ursula. Even though the film came out in 1989, she’s very much part of culture.

“You can still buy Ursula pyjamas at Primark, and she’s become a queer icon. She’s one of the only female Disney villains. She’s plus size, naughty and sexy and very unapologetic about it, but she didn’t have much screen time so we decided to fix that!”

Unfortunate writer-director Robyn Grant

Unfortunate first emerged at the Underbelly at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe. “I played Ursula in that version, starting out at an hour-long. We were astonished that the run  sold out pretty early on, with this recognisable character really catching on,” Robyn says.

Gradually, the show has expanded from a cast of five to ten for the Southwark Playhouse run and five-month tour, while the running time is now 70 minutes for the first half, 65 for the second. The set is bigger too.

“In terms of a model for how to grow a British musical theatre show, not everyone has a Cameron Mackintosh or the RSC to support them, so we’re incredibly proud to hit this scale.

“The Birmingham Hippodrome has been very supportive, and we’ve been very lucky to have a commercial producer, Runaway Entertainment, producer of 2:22 A Ghost Story, who’ve come on board along with lots of angels backing us, who’ll hopefully get their money back and more.”

To cast Ursula this time, “I think I saw every fantastic-sized woman in the world,” says Robyn. “I first met Shawna on Zoom.  She was fabulous, crawling all over the camera! She was filthy, funny, such a laugh. She was extraordinary.

“I immediately said, to my producers’ horror, ‘we need to bring this woman over from America’, but thankfully they said ‘yes’ and she’s been absolutely worth it.

“The show has massively grown, and the way it’s grown so huge means we’re about to release a cast album led by Shawna, available on all streaming platforms. We’ve had people seeing the show multiple times, following it around, and we now have a global audience, excited at the possibility of doing the show. We’re being asked to take it to America, where we’re in negotiation to go there over the next two years.”

“I work on it every night, always trying to find a better and different way of doing the comedy,” says Unfortunate star Shawna Hamic

You will note that Disney is not mentioned in the show title. “Because it’s a parody musical we’re protected by those laws, so we’re able to jab at how they present princesses, the role of women in their movies, the representation of women in relationships, especially in The Little Mermaid,” says Robyn, who had “the absolute most fun making this glorious monstrosity”.

In that role, New York City actress Shawna Hamic is enjoying her British travels – “everywhere I go is like a new home, so that’s exciting,” she says – on the back of her London stage debut.

“When the producers contacted my agents to see if I’d be willing to do it, because Ursula is one of my favourite animated characters I leapt at it. It took a couple of months to process the visa, which was dependant on government approval to say I had enough credits to justify me taking the role, rather than a British actor.

“It’s been an incredible opportunity. It was always something I’d wanted to do, thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be amazing for a show to bring me over’, rather than me just coming over.”

Shawna feels a “great responsibility” in playing Ursula. “That’s because of all the work that’s gone before, with Robyn, Daniel and Tim putting their heart and soul into it,” she says. “But I also want to put my own stamp on it. I wouldn’t be in it if I didn’t think I could bring something to it.

“It’s been fun, and maybe I’ve even surprised Robyn by saying ‘I know you wrote it and starred in it, but how about doing it this way?’. I work on it every night, always trying to find a better and different way of doing the comedy, because otherwise it becomes stagnant – and I don’t want.”

Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch, Grand Opera House, York, June 11 to 15, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Age guidance: 16+. Why? Contains strong language, partial nudity, scenes of a sexual nature and flashing lights.

Copyright of The Press, York.