Playwright: Lolita Chakrabarti

Director: Blanche McIntyre

Theatre: Almeida Theatre

Review by Carmen Morris-Coulson

Lolita Chakrabarti has penned an authentic multi-layered play about family, acceptance, mental health and a slice of everyday life. The play centers around Gil and Benny, played by Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani respectively.

Gil grew up as part of the Black British Caribbean middle class, surrounded by his family, in comfort and ease. Constantly dissatisfied, he was forever chasing rainbows. In contrast, Benny’s precarious childhood was punctuated by periods in care due to his mother’s frequent mental health crises. Although she was often unable to look after him, we get a glimpse into Benny’s tender loyalty for her as whenever they were apart he would refuse to comb his hair or cream his skin until they were reunited.

When Benny first gatecrashes Gil’s father’s funeral to reveal they share the same father, you have to wonder – is Benny after a share of the inheritance and the big house on the hill, or is he just desperate to know where he came from?

We follow the brothers’ relationship as it develops into a strong bond of warmth and genuine friendship. Gil is particularly pleased he is no longer the youngest by six whole days, and his three high-achieving sisters would have a new focus for their attentions.

There was so much to love about Hymn, from Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani’s rich performances, to the obvious joy radiating on set when they breakdanced and rapped to Grandmaster Flash, and sashayed down a catwalk to Will Smith for Benny’s 50th birthday celebrations. Even through the undercurrent of tension that had me on the edge of my seat, Chakrabarti had me laughing out loud at some of her one-liners. “He was a bit of a racist, but meant well,” said Benny, describing a white gym owner who had let him use his gym for free.

Hymn had everything you’d want in a play: intrigue, heart, soul, great singing, and dancing. It transported me out of my sitting room and into the theatre, making me forget we were in the middle of a lockdown.

Hymn is at the Almeida Theatre, and will be available to view on demand between Wednesday 3 – Tuesday 9 March.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner