🎭 Shifters
📍 Bush Theatre
🎟️ PR invite

Bush Theatre continue impress with their latest production from Benedict Lombe. 

‘Shifters’ is a beautiful and honest, exploration of young love, memory, and destiny. We meet Destiny and Dream (Heather Agyepong and Tosin Cole), childhood friends who reconnect after years apart. Now, aged 32, Des and Dre are living the dream in their respective careers. But a tragedy brings them together for the first in 8 years, and the memories come flooding back. The play shifts between pivotal moments in Des and Dre’s lives – from the moment they met at 16 in debate class to the challenges they faced in adulthood.

Written by Benedict Lombe, winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Playwriting, the play is authentic, and poetic as it delves into the complexities of relationships. I adored how Lombe’s writing acknowledges the vulnerability we exude when it comes to love. Throughout this powerful two-hander, we watch Des and Dre navigate their friendship-turned-relationship, through affecting moments. 

Lombe sensitively incorporates the impact of grief and trauma on Des and Dre’s relationship, but also the heavy burden Des carries in regards to being a Black woman. This was something I and members of the audience audibly agreed on as Des emotionally described how society interacts with Black girls. 

The story makes us question whether the ‘right person, wrong time’ is true and if soulmates do exist (I believe they do!).

Photo by Craig Fuller

Tosin Cole and Heather Agyepong take to the stage with undeniable chemistry. The dialogue between them is pacy, and filled with playful jokes that double up as flirtatious. They banter about African parties, the school’s debate club, and Nigerian vs Congolese music. I found myself smiling numerous times at their exchanges and how real the performances were. My memorable moment was Des tending to Dre’s hair; this simple yet profoundly intimate moment beautifully showed the bond between the pair. That soft, playfulness remains even years after they last met. 

Agyepong’s Des is self-assured and full of sharp wit, while Cole is the epitome of cool, calm and collected, even in moments of sadness. Cole and Agyepong deliver the most captivating performances I’ve seen in a romantic play. Even during quieter moments, their passion speaks volumes. Directed by Lynette Linton, there is a playful energy between our two leads. The non-linear structure flows naturally, revealing layers of Des and Dre’s relationship with each passing year.

Photo by Craig Fuller

Alex Berry transforms the main space with a minimalist traverse staging, while Neil Austin’s stunning lighting illuminates the stage. The lighting is visually striking as we walk into the theatre and throughout the show, these lights effectively capture the shifting timelines in the story. The bold hues of greens and reds during Des and Dre’s youthful years, become dimmer as we move to present-day. I would have loved a solid conclusion to round off the story, but perhaps the ending was meant to be ambiguous.

The show is a powerful reminder of our experiences with long-term connections, and will leave audiences utterly moved. With stellar performances and evocative storytelling, Lombe’s play balances humour and heartbreaking scenes, and altogether is an authentic portrayal of young love. Shifters is another example of Bush Theatre continuing to share new, powerful and diverse stories!

Shifters plays at Bush Theatre until 30 March 2024.