DramaFeaturedLondonReview

Shifters – Bush Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Benedict Lombe

Director: Lynette Linton

Is first love a chemical reaction based on novelty or do soulmates really exist? Benedict Lombe’s Shifters commissioned by the Bush Theatre is a heartwarming and devastating two-hander between characters who have known each other half their lives but never quite find the words to say how they feel. Generating instant audience investment and a complex couple to root for, Shifters is an affecting romcom full of sharply observed behaviours.

Dre and Des meet as argumentative teens in a philosophy class aged 16 and spend years circling one another. By the time they are 32, their lives have changed completely but something draws them back together. Is it love or just nostalgia for who they used to be?

Lombe’s 100-minute play performed without an interval is a strong duologue that blends past and present to tell the story of a relationship that has endured despite the differences in personality, needs and even class that exist between the leads. Lombe’s writing is caustic but also poetic in its presentation of the human heart, using a part-narrated, part-dramatised approach in which both Dre and Des speak of the impact on one another and the long effect on their adult choices.

This affecting dissection of what it means not only to love and accept love, but also to recognise and react to the emotional and bodily symptoms and needs that love demands has much in common with plays like Nick Payne’s Constellations and The Effect by Lucy Prebble, all of which have insightful things to say about the development of long-term connections and how these characters cross boundaries, fill and empty the other’s world and yet continue to matter intensely to one another. Lombe’s control of information throughout the play is cleverly managed to pepper the angst with revelations and character development while drawing the audience into the pairing from the start.

Directed by Lynette Linton and performed in traverse, this Bush Theatre production finds real energy in the scenes between the younger Dre and Des, a quick-fire confidence and ease that betrays them in the later years when too much has happened, and both never feel entirely relaxed. The chapter-like punctuation of their meeting aged 32 is elongated across the show, sometimes a little lacklustre in places when it contrasts with the exuberant youth scenes, but the slow burn impact is certainly felt in the final moments of the play.

Heather Agyepong as Des is brilliantly pitched, a sassy but intelligent and sensitive teenager whose need for Dre dawns on her over time while Tosin Cole’s Dre is always destined to love Des, sweetly nervous in her company and much attached to the place where they grew up. The play could spend a little more time on Des’ interior life – a hint of abuse that seems too lightly treated and too often the motivation for a woman’s reticence these days – yet the chemistry between them is what Shifters is all about and by the end, the audience has certainly decided whether mere biology or true love has brought them together.

Runs until 30 March 2024

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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