Hymn at Almeida Theatre
Following a very successful run of live-streamed shows earlier this year, Hymn returns to the Almeida theatre, finally making its debut in front of a live audience. The story, which celebrates male friendship, was written by playwright Lolita Chakrabarti to explore the softer and more emotional dimension of masculine bonds, an aspect that she finds to be generally overlooked on the stage.
The play begins with Gil () delivering a speech at his father’s funeral. He paints a clear picture of who the departed man was and why he was respected. At the end of the service Gil meets Benny (Danny Sapani), an uninvited guest who has a secret to share. Despite the initial friction that the newcomer’s presence creates, the two gradually strike up a friendship. They share hobbies and interests and open up to one another about their worries and insecurities. They also help each other to overcome challenges and eventually become so attuned that they decide to work on a joint venture. An unfortunate event, however, interrupts the harmony and brings out their most fragile selves.
Lester and Sapani are excellent in showing the different layers of their characters’ inner makeup. The piece is at its most engaging when the two are messing around and having fun as they bond. Music plays a big part in making the show a vibrant experience, as the duo frequently break out in song and recall classic hits from their youth. As for the storyline, it is clear and simple but rather tame and lacks original elements. At times the men’s conversations sound too much like ordinary banter rather than meaningful dialogues from which we can take something away. On the occasions when there is a message behind their jokes, they are often presented too bluntly, such as when Gil relates a racist episode of which he was the victim. Moreover, the protagonists’ psychological journeys are somewhat rushed at their most delicate stages.
Overall, Hymn is a welcome reflection on masculinity and mental health. It touches on important topics while still managing to weave in an element of lightheartedness and a dazzling quality that makes the show an ideal option for re-experiencing live theatre after the long break.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Hymn is at Almeida Theatre from 26th July until 13th August 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.