Shawna Hamic gives Katerina Partolina Schwartz some insight into her interpretation of Ursula, her role in Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, The Parody Musical that makes us reassess everything we think we know about what happens under the sea and the part Unfortunate plays in our cultural consciousness.
What are you looking forward to the most in your role as Ursula?
I have always dreamed of playing Ursula and so to finally get my shot at portraying this iconic character is such a thrill. And to get a chance to perform here in the UK is just a cherry on the top of an already delicious sundae.
Apart from Ursula, who is your favourite Disney villain and why?
I think my next favourite Disney villain would have to be Maleficent. Who doesn’t love an amazing powerful woman who can also change into a green fire-breathing dragon!? Best of both worlds.
What theatre-makers or actors have inspired your career and performances?
I’ve always been such a fan of Bernadette Peters; she and I actually share a birthday. I love Kathy Bates and Melissa McCarthy- two brilliant performers in all genres not just comedy. I love Gary Oldman; what a versatile actor he is. I have so many people who inspire me. Their artistry and skills inspire every day.
Favourite song in the show?
I think it's giving something fun away to tell you the title of the song, but I will say I get to perform an amazing, sexy pop duet with the glorious Tom Lowe who plays Triton. He’s such a dreamboat and the song is so fun to do!
What do you think is the central message of Unfortunate?
I think the message is that everyone has a story you may not know. I also think this show empowers everyone to celebrate exactly who they are, not just those things about yourself that society thinks you should celebrate. It’s our individuality which makes us special. We should love those things about ourselves, not try to hide them away.
How would you describe Unfortunate to someone who has never seen the show?
It's fabulous and fun; the backstory of Ursula the Sea Witch which goes into why she is the octowoman we know and love.
Although Unfortunate is a parody of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, how do you think it relates or references the original story by Hans Christian Anderson?
Well for one thing Triton and Ursula are NOT related. It's important to realise that fact before coming to see our version.
Why do you think audiences are so receptive to Unfortunate?
I think everyone loves having a good time! And Unfortunate gives you the chance to laugh and forget your troubles for a while. We empower you and celebrate someone who isn’t your standard leading lady. I feel like that gives others permission to celebrate themselves.
How as an actor do you balance the comedy and perhaps more serious moments that may occur in the show?
I feel like it’s my job to relish every moment. The silly and the serious. I am trying to give a full character and to do that we have to enjoy the dark and the light sides in equal measure. I hope I’m learning the balance of Ursula.
Considering the current political climate, why is Unfortunate an important show for audiences to see?
The political climate all around the world - not just here in the UK or back in the US where I’m from -is so polarised right now. People taking sides and one side dismissing the other. There is a concerted effort to dampen originality and truth and to make people fall in line. There are anti-trans laws, anti-LGBTQIA laws, anti-drag laws, there is systemic racism and discrimination against different religions. Unfortunate is a celebration of someone who is considered ‘other’. And she’s the hero as well as the ‘villain’. I think any show that gives you permission to celebrate what makes you YOU, all while having an amazing time, is essential in times like these. Art is essential. We may be a parody musical, but the message is always important. So come see us. We celebrate you exactly as you are.