Shifters ★★★★ Bush Theatre | Feb 16 - Mar 30, 2024

In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare refers to his protagonists as star-crossed lovers. In Shifters, Benedict Lombe deals with the relationship of Des and Dre who seemed destined to be together, but whose aspirations might keep them apart. They are schoolmates who live in the same neighbourhood, and despite differences and secrets, they become best friends. The question becomes whether they really are soul mates, or if such a thing even exists. When school ends their lives take very different paths, but the sense of attachment persists. When they meet again at the funeral of Dre's grandmother, the sparks once again fly. We are in familiar romcom territory here, and Tosin Cole and Heather Agyepong are absolutely endearing as the two could-be sweethearts stuck in the friend zone. Their banter is charming, if sometimes a bit overwritten, but their connection rings true. From the couple's first feisty interchange, the audience is charmed and wants to see them together. The decision to present the narrative as a series of interspersed incidents from the present and the past doesn't always work, however. Despite the lighting cues which are apparently intended to serve as a guide, it is easy to become confused. In the play notes, Lombe says that the scenes "are intended to blend in and out of each other – like a memory continuously transforming, eroding, shifting." However, one can't help but wonder if the distracting device doesn't just betray a lack of trust in the story if it were to be simply delivered chronologically. Director Lynette Linton does a nice job of keeping the audience engaged in the piece, despite the fact that because of its presentation in the round we are frequently looking at the actors' profiles or backs. What really works to overcome any flagging interest however, is the first-rate performances of Cole and Agyepong. They may, or may not be, star-crossed lovers, but they manage to generate a convincing chemistry that is quite compelling.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Craig Fuller

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