Yeast Nation has an outstanding cast, but a murky story. 

Credit: Claire Bilyard

Yeast Nation, showing at Southwark Playhouse, is written by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, the writers of Tony-Award winning, Urinetown. This show is directed by Benji Sperring and produced by Proud Haddock Productions and Benji Sperring Productions in association with Steph Hartland Present. Designed by Diego Pitarch, the set consisted of bean bags and a couple of moving platforms, but the real show-stealer were Pitarch’s costumes – green bodysuits decorated with tuffs of tool to encapsulate the essence of a yeast. 

Yeast Nation is set in the primordial sea some three-and-a-half billion years ago. The king of the yeasts, Jan the Eldest (Christopher Howell) is resisting inevitable evolution, wanting everything to stay the same. His second-born (and therefore forgotten) daughter (Mari McGinlay) craves power and plots to kill him to take over the title of king. And that’s about all I understood of the show. Yeast Nation advertises to be ‘part Shakespearean court drama, part bio-historical sci-fi fantasia’ and ‘explores hunger, greed, love, and sustainability.’ However, it doesn’t quite hit these marks, and I did not see any big metaphors or find a deeper meaning behind the production. The story was difficult to follow and not at all profound. 

Credit: Claire Bilyard

What did impress me about Yeast Nation was the phenomenal cast (Shane Convery, James Gulliford, Marisa Harris, Christopher Howell, Stephen Lewis-Johnston, Sarah Slimani, Hannah Nuttall, and Mari McGinlay), and I want to be sure my two-star rating does not overshadow the hard work these actors put into the show. Portraying single-celled organisms cannot be an easy feat, but they did not hold back. Lucie Pankhurst’s movement direction was comedically brilliant. All of the actors were funny, uninhibited, energetic, and enjoyable to watch. Slimani (Jan the Unnamed) was effortlessly hilarious, making me laugh by just a look. While all of the actors had beautiful voices, Nuttall (Jan the Sweet) and McGinlay (Jan the Sly) stood out with their flawless belts. The actors were by far the best part of Yeast Nation and essentially carried the show. I commend the producing team on hiring 50 percent graduates for the show, and I look forward to seeing what other roles they will perform in the future. 

Yeast Nation is on at the Southwark Playhouse until the 27th of August.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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