They both have birthdays within a few days of each other, they are both about to turn 50, and they both soon discover that they have more in common with each other than they ever imagined.
Sympathetic resonance is at the heart of this graceful play, in which two men, brought up in very different circumstances, suddenly find themselves on the same frequency after a lifetime apart. This is a play about friendship, different kinds of brotherhood, family legacy, the way music brings us together and provides the soundtrack of our lives, and about knowing your own worth. At one point Miles Davis is quoted: “Sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself.”
Chakrabarti's play follows a year in the lives of Gil and Benny, charting their growing and ever shifting relationship over the course of 90 minutes. The balance in that relationship, its power dynamics, and its strengths are not quite as it first appears on the surface. As Benny becomes more embedded within Gil’s family, they unearth the past, re-examine their childhoods, and our perceptions of the two men subtly alter. Who is most damaged? Who has the most support from their family?
Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani in Hymn, a livestream from Almeida theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner
The play is great on family dynamics, showing how the success of siblings can leave others feeling inadequate, and also how sometimes it's the most apparently confident people who have no confidence in themselves. It’s excellent too on the relentlessness of everyday racism that both men experience — there’s a brilliant little nugget of writing about a passive aggressive encounter with a woman who refuses to back up — and on the younger generation that's seeking real change.
Blanche McIntyre’s production, played out on a narrow strip of stage, has the delicacy that the play demands and throws a searching light on its central relationship. My only complaint is that the pivotal scene in a boxing gym doesn’t quite work up the required sweat between the actors. But Lester and Sapani — one sleek and smooth; the other rumpled and hesitant — are a joy together, and while at first sight this might seem like a small play, it’s one which hums.
You can watch Hymn online as an Almeida Theatre livestream until Sat 20 Feb. Tickets here.