Benji Sperring directs the European premiere of Yeast Nation, a bio-historical musical comedy from the Tony-award winning writers of Urinetown which opens at the Southwark Playhouse this summer.
Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) was written and composed by Tony and Obie award-winning writers Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, and this debut London production is directed by Benji Sperring (The Toxic Avenger, Night of the Living Dead – Live!)
Yeast Nation premiered in 2007 at the Perseverance Theatre in Alaska, and has been produced in fringe productions across the US including New York, San Francisco and Chicago. It was written as a prequel to Urinetown as part of an, as yet, unproduced trilogy.
Yeast Nation is at Southwark Playhouse 22nd July to 27th August 2022.
You’re directing Yeast Nation at Southwark Playhouse, what can you tell us about this new musical?
Well it’s pretty bananas! It’s a unique story set 3 and a half billion years ago at the bottom of the sea. It follows the first colony of Yeast – all conveniently called Jan – and their trials and tribulations as they struggle with politics, power, and love. It’s basically Succession mixed with The Land Before Time.
What was it about Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann’s work that really appealed to you as a director?
I’m drawn to the quirky stuff – I like theatre that has a strong heart and message, but tells a story in an unconventional way. Anything that takes big risks – be it setting, style, concept – is infinitely more interesting to me than something conventional. When you see what Greg and Mark have done, it is a really beautiful and unexpected story with huge relevance today, but floating in the primordial soup.
This isn’t the first prequel you’ve directed, what excites you most about this kind of work?
Hah, I mean, Yeast Nation is the prequel to all musicals, so it’s a bit different from the others I’ve directed. I guess Shock Treatment was more of a conventional prequel (although, to be precise, it wasn’t a prequel, but an equal to The Rocky Horror Show), but it meant there were characters to play with who have their own legacy and ancestry, both narratively and physically, which you can utilise or subvert. For Yeast Nation, there is something about setting up the basis for the entirety of existence that speaks to me on a profound level; luckily, through extensive research, I discovered all the Yeast lived in Yorkshire.
And how do you think audiences who already love Urinetown will react to this show?
God, I mean, I love Urinetown, and when I heard the demos for the show originally it was like discovering a brand new level you’d never played on your favourite computer game. The script, the story, the music, they’re all palpably similar to Urinetown, but simultaneously totally different. The beats of Urinetown are very similar, but it’s on a totally different drum.
What do you think the biggest challenge will be in bringing this black comedy set in the brine of the primordial soup to the stage?
I mean, I’d love to say the huge implications of what we’re saying about the start of existence, but mostly at the moment it’s the costumes: green lycra bodysuits. I’m not sure if there was a time when they ever looked cool.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see Yeast Nation?
Well, I’d probably say that I can guarantee there isn’t another show that is anything like this, and that they absolutely should book tickets to witness the madness. Or I’d chase them down the street shouting the word “Yeast” at them in increasingly loud and intense intervals until they escaped or I was detained. It’s 50/50.
Tickets for Yeast Nation directed by Benji Sperring are on sale from the Southwark Playhouse website