This show effervesces with life: heart-warming, hilarious yet painfully realistic throughout… Hymn is a recreation of reality.
Hymn follows the story of two half-brothers, kept apart for 50 years and brought together by a funeral. Gil (Adrian Lester) and Benny (Danny Sapani) have to contend with this upheaval, learn to adapt and welcome the other into their families and lives. Gil and Benny are distinctive individuals and Hymn sets out to explore the insecurities, past traumas and hardships that led to their unique natures. We, the audience, get to know the characters as they get to know each other – watching the ups and downs, relating to their impromptu karaoke sessions and truly investing in the strength of their brotherly bond.
For me, Hymn feels a lot like eavesdropping – something we are all taught not to do but, if we are being honest, something we all dabble in (probably daily). Lester and Sapani have crafted something so believable and formed a relationship that is so real that, as an audience member, you feel like you have one ear (and one eye) in a conversation that was not intended for you to be a part of. It is incredibly unique and incredibly grounding to watch two sensational actors recreate life right in front of you.
The acting itself is honestly faultless. It is incredibly humbling to get the chance to witness acting on this level and in such an intimate setting too. Both Lester and Sapani master their character’s unique traits (and of course flaws) and have an unbeatable stage rapport. What is particularly interesting is their command of disjointed conversations, representing only one half of two-way conversations had with fake characters who are non-existent, off stage and mute.
Minimalism is the key to this production. The show begins with two props on stage: a whisky bottle and a bible. From these two items, a whole narrative is spun and, from the subsequent interchange of these items, two character trajectories are played out before you. The neatness of this is such that it almost goes unnoticed – a testament to its seamless excellence. Throughout the show, the sporadic sounding of the metronome abruptly reintroduces a sense of time, implying an unstoppable timeline which is both ominous and jubilant in unpredictable measure.
And, of course, no review of Hymn would be complete without acknowledging music. Thematically, music is integral to the lives of Gil and Benny and it is, therefore, integral to the composition of the performance. The songs chosen capture a moment in time, represent an era and, particularly when accompanied by a back room clear out/karaoke session with an old fancy dress collection, exemplify the power of music to transport and unite people to a time before they even knew each other. Most importantly however, the vocal performances are exceptional! Each snippet serves a purpose: cleverly used to mimic radio, to enhance the narrative or just woven into speech – as in the name, music is synonymous with Hymn.
Hymn is so spectacular in its naturalness that I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of the script is adlibbing. But, in reality, I am more inclined to believe that Lester and Sapani have done the impossible and disguised fantasy with an impenetrable wall of reality.
This is an exceptional performance: you will laugh, you will cry and you most definitely will not be disappointed.