Tag Archives: Craig Fuller



Bush Theatre

SHIFTERS at the Bush Theatre


“There are some lines of devastating simplicity that do a huge amount of emotional heavy lifting, showing off Lombe’s accomplishment and skill”

This hugely charismatic commission from the Bush Theatre toys and teases audiences’ hearts, not least down to the sparkling performances from actors Tosin Cole and Heather Agyepong. In many ways, this is a classic tale of young love being overtaken by other events in a similar model to Constellations, but writer Benedict Lombe adds depth through sensitive handling of grief, race, and the choices that push people apart.

Dre (credited as short for Dream – Cole) and Des (Destiny – Agyepong) have much in common. We meet them as 32 year olds, reunited after years apart, before tracking back to them first colliding as teenagers. Both are displaced from South London to an unnamed regional town where they are two of the few Black kids in their school. Dre drags Des into debate club, setting up their dialogues for the rest of the piece which encompass discussions on the nature of first love, the possibility of alternative worlds and free will, and the baggage from their families which is both a privilege and a burden.

Their conversations are sharp, filled with jousts and barbs, always managing to find an angle against each other to explore. Lombe’s script is packed, the quips constantly keeping up the pace, though in the final third more space is left around the text, allowing moments of silence and reflection before another sharp comment moves the scene along again. There are some lines of devastating simplicity that do a huge amount of emotional heavy lifting, showing off Lombe’s accomplishment and skill.

The direction of Lynette Linton is largely playful and naturalistic. The opening scenes are played for comedy, Agyepong doing an impeccable bit with her mouth full of puff puffs (or beignets, depending on who you’re asking). In more significant moments, small physical movements become imbued with meaning which becomes clearer as they are replayed time and time again: this emphasises the dizziness and entrapment of strong memories.

“Cole and Agyepong have real acting pedigree”

Staging is simple, bars of neon light framing a traverse stage which is empty except for four small black boxes ordered neatly at the edge. As the piece progresses, more of these boxes are introduced, an effective physical reminder of the clutter of memories. Lighting (Neil Austin) switches colours to indicate scene and timeline changes, then flickers subtly through the final scenes as tension comes to a head. Music effects are used well to recall tinny playbacks of old tracks on old phones, but when used as transition the balance is sometimes off, with it overwhelming the first few lines of speech.

Cole and Agyepong have real acting pedigree, and move around the stage freely, whether acting out teenage cringiness, or circulating each other as they explore what is beyond friendship. The magnetism of their connection feels inescapable from the off, and it is impossible to not root for them individually and together. They also do excellent impressions of the offstage characters, who never appear in their own right but have huge influence over Des and Dre.

The ambiguous ending felt appropriate and a sophisticated choice, though the denouement overall felt a little rushed. Maybe that was the point, that consequences can hinge on tiny sentences said or unsaid, especially when one character’s opportunity to move away intersects with another’s fear of abandonment. Still, with neither character having many palpable flaws it was hard to believe that this was all it took for the relationship to fall apart.

This aside, Shifters is a deeply perceptive sophomore piece from an undeniably talented writer, lovingly acted by the superb Cole and Agyepong.

SHIFTERS at the Bush Theatre

Reviewed on 23rd February 2024

by Rosie Thomas

Photography by Craig Fuller



Previously reviewed at this venue:

ELEPHANT | ★★★★★ | October 2023
RED PITCH | ★★★★ | September 2023
PARADISE NOW! | ★★★★★ | December 2022
THE P WORD | ★★★ | September 2022
FAVOUR | ★★★★ | June 2022
LAVA | ★★★★ | July 2021



Click here to see our Recommended Shows page


Handel's Messiah

Handel’s Messiah: The Live Experience


Theatre Royal Drury Lane



Handel's Messiah

“The soloists are captivating”


When Handel composed the music for “Messiah” in 1741 it initially had a mixed and modest reception and caused a rift between Handel and the librettist Charles Jennens. Handel completed the score in just over three weeks, the speed of which many perceived as a sign of ecstatic and divine energy but Jennens merely put it down to carelessness and laxity. Despite the faltering start, the oratorio gained in popularity eventually becoming one of the best known and frequently performed choral works. The ‘Hallelujah’ chorus being instantly recognisable and often performed as a standalone piece.

“Messiah” tells the whole life story of Christ from birth to death, and beyond. The go-to work to perform during the Easter or Christmas period, conductor Gregory Batsleer’s interpretation draws it away from the classical concert hall with the intention of pulling in a wider audience from the West End and beyond. The scale and ambition are on a grand scale; combining the London Symphony Chorus and the English Chamber Orchestra with four of the top soloists of the classical world. It is billed as an ‘immersive’ experience although the hype merely adds fuel to the debate as to what ‘immersive’ actually means in the theatrical context.

There is no getting away from the fact that the production is visually and aurally stunning. The libretto leaves more to be desired. A series of reflections and soundbites from the Old and New Testaments with none of the singers having any identifiable role. So, the success has to rely in part on the drama of the piece. The soloists are captivating: the soprano Danielle De Niese, Mezzo-Soprano Idunnu Münch, Baritone-Bass Cody Quattlebaum and tenor Nicky Spence perform with the requisite pageantry and purity, reinforced by the choir. The orchestra fleshes out the less muscular choruses to bring them in line with the stronger numbers, although the consistency does veer close to monotony at times. It is interspersed with narration from the charismatic Martina Laird and Arthur Darvill as ‘Mother’ and ‘Child’ respectively; reciting poetic prose on the themes of hope sacrifice and redemption.

The inclusion of dance adds another layer. Dan Baines, Jemima Brown and Sera Maehera accompany the music in the guise of rebel, leader and healer. They appear and disappear from the narrative, sometimes poignantly and sometimes superfluously, but always beguiling – especially Brown whose presence is quite hypnotic.

But the question remains as to how much this adds to the experience. It is often at odds with the performance, and most guilty of this is the vast video screen that splits the choir down the middle. Unavoidable, it intrudes throughout with images that bear little relation to the story, unless the references are deliberately oblique. Interesting as they are, they distract somewhat. As do the choice of costume for the narrators; a kind of Mad Max battle garb with token Biblical accessory – apocryphal and apocalyptic – the point of which misses its target.

Which is the fundamental flaw. The programme notes explain the intention to bring classical music to the masses. To make it inclusive and, I suppose, immersive. It assumes that the general population regard classical music as ‘dull and stuffy’ and that it is not something most people can relate to. Handel might not have agreed, but he would have approved of the approach. He was a showman himself after all; interested in the drama and not just the music. The multimedia elements are a response to the way the world is now. But while they might draw in a new crowd for this ‘dull and stuffy’ (the conductor’s words, not mine) music, they do little to make us follow the story and therefore capture the passion inherent in the score. Which is disengaging, instead of having the desired effect. “Messiah”, as an oratorio, has no story as such – so is not the easiest to follow. But the audience can wallow in the beauty of the music and let the imagination construct the scenes. This production unfortunately takes that away and replaces it with more confusion.



Reviewed on 6th December 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Craig Fuller




Recently reviewed by Jonathan:


Barb Jungr Sings Bob Dylan | ★★★★ | Crazy Coqs | October 2022
The Choir Of Man | ★★★★ | Arts Theatre | October 2022
From Here To Eternity | ★★★★ | Charing Cross Theatre | November 2022
Glory Ride | ★★★ | The Other Palace | November 2022
La Clique | ★★★★★ | Christmas in Leicester Square | November 2022
The Sex Party | ★★★★ | Menier Chocolate Factory | November 2022
Love Goddess, The Rita Hayworth Musical | ★★ | Cockpit Theatre | November 2022
Rapunzel | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | November 2022
Top Hat | ★★★★ | The Mill at Sonning | November 2022
The Midnight Snack | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | December 2022


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