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Yeast Nation: The Triumph of Life

In 2014 I took a chance and went to see the oddly titled Urinetown – The Musical a satirical show about toilets that satirised capitalism, corporate responsibility and politics whilst parodying musicals themselves. My visit to the St James Theatre was rewarding with superb songs, tremendous performances, wonderful staging and direction – a total joy from start to finish. Written by Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics), the show that originated off-Broadway went on to be an enormous success on Broadway winning four Tonys. So, when I heard that a musical the pair had started writing before Urinetown but got put on the back burner until after Urinetown was on at Southwark Playhouse, I couldn’t wait to see what else Hollman and Kotis had come up with. Well, what they’ve come up with is a real mess of a musical that made me think about leaving at the interval but I’m a trouper and had a review to write so I stayed on for the second act!

east Nation: The Triumph of Life at Southwark Playhouse. Photo by Claire Bilyard.
east Nation: The Triumph of Life at Southwark Playhouse. Photo by Claire Bilyard.

Yeast Nation The Triumph Of Life is set in 3,000,458,000 BC and tells the story of yeast – the first living organisms as they rise from the primordial soup to start the evolutionary process that leads to the human race. Along the way things happen to them although due to the convoluted plot (if you can call it that), I have no idea what was going on – it made no sense whatsoever – and the glove puppets didn’t help. There were eight characters all of whom were called Jan – Jan The Wise, Jan The Eldest, Jan The Sweet – you get the picture – and they all spoke with Yorkshire accents for some reason. Along the way, they sang twenty songs although it may well have been one song repeated twenty times as they were all very unmemorable. Dressed in olive green lycra covered with what looked like exploded tutus, the performers did their best with the material (in both senses of the word) they were given. The cast is made up of some experienced performers along with some new graduates as part of an excellent post-covid initiative from the producers. However, due to the volume of the band, the singers were forced to shout and scream to be heard over them and it resulted in an unedifying sound quality that made my Apple watch warm me of a “loud environment”!

Billed in the programme as “Part Greek tragedy, part Shakespearian court drama, part bio-historical sci-fi fantasiaYeast Nation The Triumph Of Life failed on every level to live up to its billing. The set was about as basic as any I’ve seen at an off-West End show – eight beanbags, some metal trolleys and a flimsy curtain that hid the musicians. The show had nothing of the brilliance of Urinetown and at times seemed like a piece of experimental theatre from the sixties as the cast gyrated around the stage with jerky, seemingly uncoordinated movements as they perspired in their lycra. Oh, and it’s long – over two hours although I’m not sure trimming it would have made much difference.

Towards the end one of the characters stated about the evolving human race, “Science can’t save them, maybe musical theatre can”. In the case of Yeast Nation The Triumph Of Life, give me science any time!

1 star

Review by Alan Fitter

A musical about Yeast, by the minds that brought you Urinetown.

It is the year 3,000,458,000 BC. Living deep within the murk is the world’s very first life-form. Behold, The Yeasts!

With food growing scarce and resources dwindling, The Yeasts are forced to stay true to The Strictures enshrined in law. But when one Yeast decides to break the rules and seek new possibilities, a new emotion changes all they have ever known….love.

Creative Team
Director Benji Sperring
Movement Director Lucie Pankhurst
Musical Director and Arranger Michael Webborn
Designer Diego Pitarch
Lighting Designer Nic Farman
Sound Designer Adam Fisher
Casting Director Harry Blumenau
Associate Director Shani Erez
Associate Producer Anna Oggero
Marketing Emma Martin
PR Mobius Industries

Producers
Jimmy Walters for Proud Haddock
Benji Sperring for Benji Sperring Productions
Steph Hartland

Cast
Shane Convery
James Gulliford
Marisa Harris
Christopher Howell
Stephen Lewis Johnston
Mari McGinlay
Hannah Nuttall
Sarah Slimani

YEAST NATION: THE TRIUMPH OF LIFE
BY MARK HOLLMANN AND GREG KOTIS
22 JUL – 27 AUG 2022
https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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