Tag Archives: Lynette Linton



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



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