Fat Rascal are undoubtedly leading the way for British comedy musicals, and their latest venture into the world of satirical song-writing sees them mine the depths of the ocean to tell the untold tail (ha) of Ursula, the notorious sea witch from The Little Mermaid. As we pick the barnacles off this old story, we learn that her nastiness is just business, and that her vindictive side is merely spurred on by rejection from her lover, Triton. In a way, it is a tale as old as time, but Fat Rascal bedazzle new life into it (mainly in the form of sex jokes) with flair and confidence.
‘Unfortunate’ is packed with catchy tunes that poke cheeky fun at everything from Disney’s prejudiced, capitalist ways, to climate change deniers, to the sad reality of being an actor at the Fringe. They are quirky and lewd, and always get a laugh. Overall, the production is lively and fun, and the cast are clearly having a whale of a time along with the audience. The re-write of Ursula’s personality is interesting, as she goes from being a one-dimensional villain who gets stabbed with a boat, to a woman with political smarts and the dedication to pursue her own desires without shame. She is the octo-witch for our times, willing to speak her mind and love her body despite antagonist societal gazes, which is fantastic – however, I can’t help but wish that the story came to a different conclusion, considering its discussion on feminism.
A large majority of the plot involves Ursula attempting to illustrate to the ditzy Ariel that men are untrustworthy and unfaithful, in the hopes that she will stop fantasising about human boys, sex, and beauty magazines, and instead take up her rightful responsibilities on the throne. At times, it feels as though Ariel’s obsession with Cosmopolitan magazine and single-minded determination to get the D are intended to portray her as somehow less of a woman than Ursula, who continually stresses the power of autonomy and using your voice. Of course, using your voice and creating a platform for yourself in order to challenge patriarchal systems is important, however Ursula does not teach this to the 16-year-old Ariel, and instead mocks her perfectly valid interests. I thought this was a missed opportunity to really deconstruct the archetypes and tropes from Disney movies which the show targets.
Entertaining and feisty, ‘Unfortunate’ is a show with a lot of sass that wants to dive deep into what it means to be a woman in a world conditioned to only appreciate certain models of femininity or womanhood. It’s flashy, and Fat Rascal have undoubtedly established themselves as a Fringe favourite, however, I worry that extra scuba lessons are needed to reach the depths of its themes.