Fringe Online 2021
Starring Adrian Lester and Danny Sapini Directed by Blanche Macintyre, designed by Miriam Buether lit by Prema Mehta, Sound design Gregory Clarke, Musical Driector D. J. Walde, Movement Director Robia Milliner. Assistant Director Simeon Blake-Hill. Till February 28th.
After the devised Nine Lessons and Carols, Lolita Chakrabarti’s Hymn returns us to a play with music, from an ensemble to another live-streamed two-hander starring Adrian Lester as Gil and Danny Sapini as Benny. It occasionally feels more fluid than the devised work. That’s its strength and occasional longeurs till the last third really hits stride. This heartwarming if rumbling study of two brothers meeting for the first time over the coffin of their father collides worlds softly.
Refreshingly, the usual denials and conflicts of this kind of encounter are avoided. Benny’s the product of a brief liaison his mother had with a tailor who already had a family. When she turns up Gil’s mother Angel and her husband quickly drive her back where she came from. But with Gil’s and Benny’s fiftieth (they’re born six days apart, Gil the big brother), comes truth and reconciliation at the outset. Not least in reflecting their older offstage sisters are scornfully more successful. This opens up fissures in dry-cleaner owning Gil but not Benny, who’s never had to compete, perpetually underestimated.
The two bond with little friction. Troubles begin liminally, as the dust of their father rubs skin and pushes success buttons, and not dry-clean ones. Benny’s had a harder life, went to college late whereas Gil went to uni and had a string of start-ups after working in HMV. Inevitably he follows his father’s directions. Yet he’s not inured to success. Benny emerges as annealed, his wife Marie and AA have helped him. His greater challenge is his children, wild son Louis gets involved with BLM but possibly Gil can offer him a job, indeed make them all wealthy. But aspiration means speculation and the real test comes when Benny trusts Gil. It’s not Gil who’s untrustworthy but it presses everything.
Directed by Blanche Macintyre who navigates contours of this seemingly relaxed celebration of bonding, it’s smokily designed by Miriam Buether recruiting as so often the Almeida’s brickwork. It’s minimal: a single piano. changes of clothes and dissolve; especially when lit so atmospherically by Prema Mehta in a perpetual Tenebrae, where much of the effect is that of a church. Indeed tonally the action never entirely leaves the opening funeral service. Sound design – crucial to the songs and speeches – is by Gregory Clarke, with musical direction by D. J. Walde. Movement director’s Robia Milliner.
There’s some unflinchingly dark comedy. Lester reads off his phone some benefactor’s spiel: ‘The history of sugar is complicated… even today transporting sugar round the world isn’t easy…’
There’s telling lines you wait for too. ‘I wish dad had known you’ Gil comments ruefully. ‘That was his biggest loss.’ As Benny concludes though: ‘The things that you think are missing are not necessarily the right ones…. As Miles Davis says ‘sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself’ and its no use trying to play the right notes in the right order but play your tune…’
Chakrarbati’s fine play takes in a snatch of songs out of Gil’s loft, as Lester and Sapini cavort celebrate and bond their way about the strip of floor to an understanding and dangerous levels of trust.
Lester hits notes of confidence and grief, portraying a man whose expressive range spans an ectoplasm of confidence over a séance of bull, down to despairing bass-notes, conjuring grief, anger, loss of face and selfhood with wild arcs of exuberance. Sapini’s more grounded Benny is a powerhouse of warmth and hunched fury, gentle admonition and searing eloquence. It’s a slow-dance of a play executed in quick-step – there’s a great routine no two bros could possibly have synched. Its real potency lies in a fine peeling apart by Lester and Sapini, and the language that bridges it.