Shifters, Bush Theatre, 2024
Photo: Craig Fuller
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Duke of York’s Theatre, Covent Garden
  • Recommended



4 out of 5 stars

Benedict Lombe’s drama about two old flames who can’t get over each other is smouldering and soulful

Anya Ryan

Time Out says

This review is from the Bush Theatre in February. In August ‘Shifters’ will transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End.

In ‘Shifters’, Benedicte Lombe’s follow-up to her Susan Blackburn Prize-winning play ‘Lava’, sparks fly and past emotions weave their way into the present. Why is the feeling of falling in love for the first time so profound?, it asks. Will we remember it forever? In this bittersweet, woozy rom-com the imprint of big, wild adolescent infatuation can’t be forgotten.

Dre and Des met at school, joined the debating society and danced awkwardly around their romantic feelings for one another, until one day everything changed. It has been eight years since they last were together, but all their history comes rushing back. Dre’s beloved ‘nana’ has died and Des has flown over for the funeral.
But in the years they’ve spent apart things have started to look a little different. They are 32 now and Des has fulfilled her dream of becoming a successful artist in America, while Dre has worked hard on realising his culinary ambitions closer to home. And yet still, their old electricity finds a way to climb back to the surface. The wonder of Lombe’s writing is that it leaves you longing for the story of what could have and should have been. Instead, we watch a poetic tale about two perfectly matched souls excruciatingly separated.
The beginning of Lynette Linton’s production is a deliberate slow burn. The romance between the duo creeps in slowly, but once it lands it tugs on your heartstrings tight. Tosin Cole and Heather Agyepong are entirely adorable and subtle as the couple: they balance jealousy with banter, familiarity with awkward teenage love. The narrative patches together their history with their future: we jump from their university years to today. The unsaid is just as important as what is said – we will them to blurt out their hidden feelings. But the chemistry between the leads is cosmic. When they finally kiss, the fire that fills the room is dizzying.
Alex Berry’s set is largely bare but decorated with luminous strip lights that look like lightning bolts and flash in different colours to show a change in the timeline. Standing among them, the actors look like they are part of something astronomical. 
And maybe they are because Lombe’s script has you fighting, wholeheartedly for their already broken relationship. There are similarities to Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’, and it has the sprawling scope of a love story that spans a lifetime. There’s a few tiny gripes: it might take a moment too long to kick into action; a revelation about Des appears to come from nowhere; we want more on their individual backstories. But Lombe is a beautiful, nuanced and soulful writer and this is a romance overflowing with heart.


Duke of York’s Theatre
St Martin's Lane
Tube: Charing Cross
£tbc. Runs 1hr 40min

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