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Review: Hymn, Almeida Theatre - brotherly love, eulogies and symbolic savings

The 'Chekhov's gun' in Lolita Chakrabati's Hymn is £10,000 in savings. When it gets mentioned early on, the warning light started flashing in my mind.

Hymn Almeida danny sapani adrian lester photo marc brenner
Hymn, on stage via the screen (Danny Sapani and Adrian Lester, photo Marc Brenner)

It belongs to Benny (Danny Sapani), hard-earned and put by bit by bit over the years.  But it is a victim of the story rather than the driver of the narrative.

Benny has recently found out his father is - or was - a local businessman and turns up at his funeral, where he meets his half-brother Gil (Adrian Lester).

The narrative quickly strides forward to when a strong bond has formed; they share a love of music and, in particular, the music of their youth.

There is a celebratory feel to their friendship - helped by some serious dancing and cool 80s beats - as if making up for the decades of missed shared experiences.

But Benny and Gil's relationship contrasts with that between Gil and their father.

Truthful eulogies

Two eulogies bookend the play. The first is revealed to be not quite truthful in how it represents a relationship while the other we'll never know if it was or not. And that made it a slightly problematic device for me.

In between the eulogies, the play falls distinctly into three parts: The discovery, the celebration, the cracks, and I struggled a little with the transitions.  

In the first act, I was gripped, hanging on every word, but the tonal shift left me wondering where it was going - the money was a clue, but the consequences of that as a device were left hanging. 

As a result, it didn't build sufficiently towards the dramatic ending to maximise the impact.

Challenges of adapting

Considering the restrictions in place, director Blanche McIntyre has done an amazing job translating what should have been performed for a live audience into something that works for cameras and live stream in - and is Covid safe.

The Q&A afterwards gave some insight into the technical challenges; for example, if one actor had touched something, the other couldn't touch it, so no passing of props.

Given that brotherly love is at the heart of the story, it would be natural to see Benny and Gil interact. While the appearance of proximity between the two actors was expertly done, the lack of actual physical contact was a notable gap at times.

It is what it is and regardless it is amazing to see new work being performed live.

I'm giving Hymn three and a half stars for the play but ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ overall, because of the performances and skill in adapting it for Covid times (and the joy of watching live performance even via a screen).

Hymn is live-streaming until 21 February and is 90 minutes without an interval. More details here on the Almeida website.

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