Hymn – review

Almeida Theatre
Live stream
Review by: Natalie Murray
Published: Saturday 20th, February 2021, 8:19am
afridiziak ratings

Hymn at the Almeida. Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani. Photo credit - Marc Brenner
Hymn at the Almeida. Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani. Photo credit - Marc Brenner

Hymn is a play full of loss, friendship, and a look at how we construct our own identities, but it is also a wonderful celebration of human connection. A two-hander play that begins at a funeral does not seem like the most life-affirming way to spend 90-minutes, but I assure you this play offers up sadness and laughter in equal measure. In this pandemic era, it is just the tonic we need.

The play focuses on the relationship of two men who first meet at a funeral, Benny (Danny Sapani) and Gil (Adrian Lester), who are both pushing 49 years old. There is a discovery that provides the context for these two men getting to know each other better. We watch as they go from stilted and awkward conversation to easy vibes. We see how they build intimacy; Benny helps out Gil with training at the gym as they joke and share snippets about their lives. Benny is initially closed off, while Gil is consistently open and generous.

 Hymn provided all the electricity you would expect from a live performance, somehow sat in my living room I was just as captivated as I would have been in The Almeida Theatre.

Running throughout the play are issues linked to identity. Even at Benny and Gil’s big age, they are still grappling with who they are. Neither Benny nor Gil are who they present to the world, but they find something in each other, a connection.



Hymn at the Almeida. Adrian Lester (back) and Danny Sapani (front). Photo credit - Marc Brenner
Hymn at the Almeida. Adrian Lester (back) and Danny Sapani (front). Photo credit – Marc Brenner

In a scene where the two men relive the music of their youth, the characters experience a moment of freedom. As the audience watches Benny and Gil dance, we witness their feeling of escape from having to reconcile their inner and outer identities. It is rare to see human connection explored through two men on the UK stage, rarer still to see it explored by two Black men and much less with flashes of Black joy.

Playwright Lolita Chakrabarti is a masterful storyteller – this play does not disappoint. Despite the audience meeting only Benny and Gil on stage, the writing brings to life an entire family. We have a strong sensory awareness of the sprawling British Jamaican family who provides a backdrop to these two characters. Fictional representations of black people always stand out when they give us nuance and depth because it is unfortunately still not the norm in the UK.

Playwright Lolita Chakrabarti is a masterful storyteller…

Initially, the musical interludes felt strange to me but I felt that was my personal need to define what I was watching. A play with the occasional musical interlude was not something I had experienced before, but it worked. I wondered if the unconventional form mirrored the characters’ stories. Neither turned out to be what the audience might have expected. Benny, who was in and out of care as a child, occupies a very different space in our minds by the end of the play; the same is true of Gil with his easy confidence and sharp suits. 

Hymn at the Almeida. Danny Sapani and Adrian Lester. Photo credit - Marc Brenner
Hymn at the Almeida. Danny Sapani and Adrian Lester. Photo credit – Marc Brenner

Praise has to go to Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani for such intelligent performances pitched just right. I imagine this is much harder to do to a live stream audience than a live one. Their understated performances avoided any harsh intensity, so we could enjoy a gripping story brought alive by two of the UK’s best actors. 

Praise has to go to Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani. Their understated performances avoided any harsh intensity, so we could enjoy a gripping story brought alive by two of the UK’s best actors. 

Hymn provided all the electricity you would expect from a live performance, somehow sat in my living room I was just as captivated as I would have been in The Almeida Theatre.

NEED TO KNOW: Hymn is been livestreamed from the Almeida Theatre until 21 February 2021. Find out more | See listing