Just like the athletes in Tokyo, actors Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani are going for gold with their rich and moving performances in Hymn. Lolita Chakrabarti’s two-person drama makes its debut in front of audiences at the Almeida Theatre, following livestreamed performances earlier this year. The play centres on the brotherly love that blossoms between Gil (Lester) and Benny (Sapani) after the half-brothers connect at their father’s funeral. On the mostly sparse stage, it’s the chemistry between the lead performers which makes this piece both hugely enjoyable and sometimes gut-wrenching.
When the self-assured Gil and circumspect Benny initially meet, their encounter is thorny. But with time, we eventually see the shoots of their friendship begin to emerge. The similarities between the half-brothers don’t quite seep through until they both realise their shared love of music. When the two men in their fifties start to get their boogie on, the play really comes alive and it’s a wonderful moment for the audience to share in (Lester’s breakdancing earned a particularly uproarious round of applause).
Before you know it, it’s as if Gil and Benny have always been life-long companions. Their lives intertwine and they both learn how to become increasingly more vulnerable with one another. In one scene, Benny opens up to Gil about his fears about being a good father and Sapani’s ability to portray emotional fragility through his facial expressions alone is captivating. Events take a turn for the worse in the play’s final moments and Lester’s grounded performance makes the sudden shift in Gil’s story arc all the more devastating.
The role that family plays in shaping the two brothers’ contrasting lives is interesting to compare. When Benny was young, he lived in and out of care as his single mother was frequently hospitalised. The absence of parental love in Benny’s childhood weighed heavily on his mental well-being deep into adulthood. One might assume that Gil is better-adjusted as he was raised by both of his parents, but we learn he’s unable to shake his strong feelings of self-inadequacy due to the frequent comparisons with his overachieving elder siblings.
Although the piece helmed by Blanche McIntyre is a slow-burner, the writing succeeds in creating interesting characters with depth and certainly knows how to pack a punch. The use of music to transition through scenes and support the storytelling works surprisingly well. Chakrabarti was inspired to write this piece when she realised that we rarely see stories on stage that capture the emotional relationship between men. In doing so, she’s created a vehicle that showcases Lester and Sapani at the top of their game.
Until August 14, almeida.co.uk