If you're looking for an utterly bizarre viewing, then Yeast Nation is the place to be. Back in a time- 3,000,458,000 BC. to be precise- where the only life form was yeast, there is theatrical opportunity to find out what they were up to. Obeying their leader, struggling to find food, navigating friendships and discovering new emotions, what more would you expect? You might be wondering how two hours of musical may be made from this... and it's likely you'll still be thinking the same by the time you leave.
At the bottom of the sea, Jan the Elder (played by Christopher Howell) must ensure that every yeast is following the laws of The Strictures, as they were the first of their kind. Anyone deemed to be breaking them, must be punished. Jan the Wretched (James Gulliford, also later Jan the Youngest) sees this first, as their outspoken ways are undesired. Controversy sparks as others strive for more than they are getting. Jan the Sweet (Hannah Nuttall) and Jan the Second Eldest (Stephen Lewis Johnston)- you soon see the theme with the character names- find an unimaginable new feeling of love, while Jan the Famished (Marisa Harris) also fights greed. Jan the Wise (Shane Convery) is keen to get involved in disputes, while Jan the Unnamed oversees operations. Due to illness, Sarah Slimani is not currently able to perform in this role (she is wonderful, if you are lucky enough to see her!), so the director, Benji Sperring, stepped in, with script in hand.
In terms of directing, the piece has lots of movement about the stage which keeps it interesting and fast paced, however the narrative is often hard to follow, even while it tries to incorporate relevant themes. Grey beanbags and metal chambers allow for different levels to be created, and the puppetry in the second act is funny, but it doesn't always feel enough to make sense of the performance.
This is one of those shows where the distinct personality of the characters is likely to lead you to have a favourite, and beret-wearing Jan the Sly (Mari McGinlay) is a strong contender. With each 'yeast' adorned in green skin suits and tulle, designed by Diego Pitarch, their unusual mannerisms can't help but be found amusing, despite a very odd premise.
From the brains behind Urinetown, the ridiculous concept does actually pair with some surprisingly enjoyable tracks. With the book by Greg Kotis, music by Mark Hollmann, and lyrics by the both of them, they have managed to create songs like 'Hear the Song', 'Little Sister' and 'Doom! Love! Doom!' that are vocally strong and catchy, though not overly memorable long term, due to the muddled plot lines. The breaks of the fourth wall are fitting with their style too, and engage with this show well, even if the narration aspect isn't consistently a strong feature. Overall, there is no doubting the commitment to characterisation that the whole cast undergo.
As a show that's a bit avant garde, with a strangely humorous script, and some great performers, Yeast Nation certainly qualifies. It's like a fever dream experience like no other.