Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani on a dance to the songs of friendship

When whispers of a new virus began to make the news final 12 months, the actor Adrian Lester was in Los Angeles. He instantly hurried back to London. His instinct was to get again house — but also to return to theatre.

Acknowledged to many for his charismatic television appearances — the silky-clean conman Mickey Stone in Hustle, the tormented cop in Undercover — Lester minimize his tooth in theatre, winning awards for his exquisite breakthrough performance as Rosalind in an all-male edition of As You Like It. In 2013 he was a amazing Othello at the National Theatre in London.

“I just want to get again into it,” he claims. “I want to get again to my roots. It constantly performs each and every muscle mass, and it feels like now I’m seeking to do the job all those people muscle mass for when we get out of this mess.”

A calendar year on from his return property, he is in fact in a theatre. Lester is starring opposite Danny Sapani in Hymn, a new two-hander, at London’s Almeida Theatre. The perform, written by Lolita Chakrabarti, tells the story of two 50-12 months-old strangers — Gil and Benny — who fulfill at a funeral and steadily find a bond. And it is functioning the muscular tissues in far more sense than one: the display will involve frequent singing and dance. Lester is pretty the mover (as Bobby in Firm he gained an Olivier award) — but lockdown has taken its toll.

Adrian Lester as Othello in the Nationwide Theatre’s 2013 output © Corbis by using Getty Illustrations or photos

“My entire body is aching,” Lester states, when I converse to the two actors during a split in rehearsals. “I’ve used the full rehearsal procedure with my system feeling like it’s screaming. ‘What, you want to do that all over again? No, no — we have not done nearly anything considering the fact that March. Sit down!’”

Hymn was because of to open up to in-person audiences this month, but England’s newest restrictions upended that thought. So the team switched track. Lester and Sapani will now perform on stage every single night time with the viewers observing in serious time on line. It’s as shut as they can get to the live encounter through the pandemic, claims Sapani: “But we’re developing. We’re again in the household. We’re soldiering on.”

Sapani, like Lester, is at residence on stage or monitor. He was a efficiently political Jason in Euripides’ Medea at the National Theatre and searingly very good Tshembe in Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs. He arrives at the Almeida fresh from filming Halo, an forthcoming Tv set sci-fi based on the very long-jogging video clip game sequence. Even so, this new movie-theatre hybrid is a challenging prospect. The viewers will eat it like movie — but for the actors there will be no retakes.

Danny Sapani with Helen McCrory in ‘Medea’ at the Nationwide Theatre, 2014 © Alastair Muir/Shutterstock

“You want that unpredictability and spontaneity when you observe one thing reside,” suggests Sapani. “So if something goes mistaken, we’re just going to have to deal with it in the moment.”

We are conversing, as so normally these times, by way of online video phone. Driving the actors I can see the curving brick wall of that intimate theatre and the darkened auditorium exactly where the viewers belongs. It’s a bittersweet sight. Sapani pans the digital camera about to demonstrate me the rigid Covid-protected preparations. “We each have different chairs with D and A on the back,” he says, with apparent delight. “And individual props.”

“We really do not even hand matters to every other,” adds Lester (who has also just lately filmed the Nationwide Theatre’s new Romeo and Juliet, thanks out in April). “It’s all been very carefully labored out. If I’m heading to decide on up a thing, Danny moves. So it is like a dance, really.”

Sapani and Lester go via their paces at the Almeida Theatre © Marc Brenner

The companionable passion among the two is crystal clear: they decide on up on every single other’s thoughts and have even contemplated swapping roles (“Oh my God! Far more traces to study!” states Lester). And they see aspects of their possess personalities and friendship in the enjoy.

“It is about adore,” claims Lester. “It’s about two adult males who are strangers at the begin and they learn to respond to each other’s insecurities as they go along. So Lolita is seriously seeking to scrape away at maleness, heterosexual really like among adult men, camaraderie — and examine the faultlines in there.

“The spark for it was mainly because she’d worked with Danny,” he adds (Sapani and Chakrabarti worked jointly on Invisible Towns at the Manchester International Competition). “And then she just began considering about two men supporting each other. I’d like to say [the spark] was due to the fact she’s married to me, but it isn’t real!”

Lester and Chakrabarti achieved at Rada and have been married due to the fact 1997. They previous collaborated onstage with Crimson Velvet (2016), Chakrabarti’s award-profitable engage in about the 19th-century African American actor Ira Aldridge (with Lester, outstanding, as Aldridge). That drama tackled head-on the prejudice that Aldridge confronted. Hymn is various. When Gil encounters racism, it is woven into the broad image of his lifestyle, defining the man or woman responsible, somewhat than Gil. For Lester, that is critical.

“I’m usually hunting at perform imagining there’s so substantially a lot more there — [characters] do not basically exist to remedy an argument or endure from an argument. They are a entire individual. And which is what this operate suggests, actually. It’s stating it is not the lifestyle it is a element of a lifetime. And at sure moments it has to be dealt with, but it is not anything. There is youngsters, there is family members, there is tasks.

Lester with his spouse, Lolita Chakrabarti, creator of ‘Hymn’ © Alan Davidson/Shutterstock

“I don’t see my black,” he provides. “Other folks are working with my black. I’m not working with it, they are. And when they deal with it in entrance of me, that’s when I have the trouble. I’m dealing with currently being a partner and a father and an actor. So there is another aspect to the conversation and I consider it’s that aspect that Lolita wishes to seem at.”

Music is essential to the men’s story. The drama is prefaced by a Miles Davis quote, and Lester points out that the participate in moves like a piece of music: “The crescendos, the discords, the counterpoint, the inversion, the simply call and response — the total detail, for Lolita, is about new music.” The two adult males usually burst into track — from Invoice Withers to The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” — and at one particular place even relive their youth with the assistance of a karaoke established, some harem trousers and a collection of rusty dance moves. (That is where by Lester’s aching limbs occur in.)

“We both equally have to adequately dance,” he says. “It’s entertaining, it is just exciting. We’re not intended to be dancers — it is not like a musical. They are a couple of 50-yr-old adult men. We’re not heading to instantly faux we’re younger: we are the age that we are, and it is the fact of that that you’re looking at. And there is so considerably of the enjoy in that sense that is sort of improvised.”

“I normally needed to be the ‘triple threat’ [a performer who can act, dance and sing],” provides Sapani. “And we’re finding a opportunity to do that, but in a way that is totally individual. We’re developing it from inside and telling the story as much from our own lives as we are of Benny and Gil. Which is a excellent privilege.”

Sudden eruptions into dance can be electrical onstage. Believe of the five sisters reducing a rug in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa or the youthful lads breaking into frenzied dance in Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman. But they also speak volumes about buried thoughts. In Hymn, dance back links Gil and Benny to a youth they have misplaced. But it also reminds all of us of the sheer excitement and vitality of reside theatre.

“Theatre is the lifeblood and soul of our craft,” says Sapani. “Can you picture not ever viewing a dwell concert or a theatrical working experience once again? Whatsoever the instances, we ought to do all the things to retain it going.”

‘Hymn’ will be livestreamed February 17-20, almeida.co.british isles