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Danny Sapani on creating Hymn during the pandemic and being inspired by Sammy Davis Jr

Sapani will be appearing in the new two-person play, streaming live from tomorrow night

Danny Sapani
© Marc Brenner

Opening a brand new play these days isn't like what it used to be – artists now have to contend with social distancing, live-streaming, technical set-ups and more – all before thought is even given to character, writing and staging.

Hit performer Danny Sapani, who has appeared in the likes of Les Blancs and Medea at the National as well as Chewing Gum on screen, knows that all too well. Sapani is gearing up to unveil Lolita Chakrabarti's Hymn, which he is performing alongside Adrian Lester at the Almeida Theatre in north London.

The show is being live-streamed for five performances only from tomorrow night, and Sapani says adjusting to the presence of a lens hasn't been too difficult: "I think both Adrian and I are very au fait with cameras, you know, so some instincts will kick in. I think we also want to keep a sense of this is being staged in a theatre. And so that will probably affect the size of the performance at times – there are aspects here that just wouldn't work as a TV or screen play – it is very much made for a stage."

Sapani describes Hymn fundamentally as "a story of love – platonic love between two men, but also loss, and fatherhood, and what it means to be part of a family. People will relate to it on all those levels." The actor is also relishing the chance to be a triple threat in a piece (obviously, given the title) infused with music: "I was grew up watching Sammy Davis Jr. and people like that, and the idea of being able to sing, dance and act, you know, to the top of your ability, is something I always wanted."

Danny Sapani and Adrian Lester
© Marc Brenner

Sapani feels as though the protocols sit comfortably with the text: "It's almost become a feature with the show. We can't touch the same things, and strikingly, we can't hug each other, or touch each other. There are many moments where we think we'd at least high five or something but we don't – and we've definitely embraced that."

The show was originally meant to be performed in front of socially distanced audiences, but the latest round of restrictions put pay to that – and Sapani had to wait for the chance to stream the piece: "It took us a long time to get the point where both Adrian and I were available to be able to do it. We were so close to having a live audience – we had one day's rehearsal before we got shut down in December. I'm just absolutely grateful that we've had the chance to be in a rehearsal room again and, you know, throw ideas around and bring this piece to light. It's really important that we find ways to improvise during this time."

Where was Sapani's drive to work on the piece? A lot of it was down to the team – "I've always wanted to work with Adrian. I think he's a master of his craft and I've always been great admirer of his work." Sapani had previously worked with Chakrabarti on Invisible Cities for Manchester International Festival and wanted to repeat what he describes as a "collaborate working language."

What has the performer learnt from his time on the show? "We really need to not be cowed by the pandemic – but to be bolstered and emboldened to keep on making and creating. We don't often get to see men interactive in this way, and that's what makes Hymn so powerful."

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