Shifters, opens at the Bush Theatre on 16 February 2024. This surprising and playful world premiere, a new Bush Theatre commission written by Benedict Lombe (Lava, winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Playwriting) and directed by Bush Theatre Artistic Director, Lynette Linton (August in England, Clyde’s) will star Heather Agyepong (School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play) and Tosin Cole (Doctor Who).
Tragedy brings Des and Dre crashing back into each other’s lives, carrying new secrets and old scars. Caught in the space between memory and reality, they must struggle to navigate the shifting borders that threaten to rewrite their past and reshape their future. A fierce romance for anyone desperate for a different kind of love story, Shifters is a tribute to the enduring power and fragility of memory and love.
Shifters continues Bene Lombe’s long relationship with the Bush under Lynette Linton and Daniel Bailey’s leadership. She was previously a member of the Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers Group and was commissioned to write Do You Here Us Now for the theatre’s Protest series, produced in response to the murder of George Floyd and which was developed into her 2021 smash-hit, Lava, winner of the Susan Blackburn Smith prize. Shifters originated during long conversations with Lynette around the lack of narratives in mainstream media that speak to Black love and Black joy – Bene has written a touching, grounded, and deeply moving new play that follows childhood loves Dre and Des and what happens when they are reunited in adulthood.
Director Lynette Linton said, ‘Having Bene back is so dope. We love her, we trust her – and she also trusts us. It feels like a match made in heaven, and we knew that she was going to write a show that was going to absolutely bang.
Working with her on Shifters – it really struck me why we make these shows and what our function is. At the Bush, we provide artists with a platform, and the space to develop and grow. Our job is to give them all the right opportunities so that they can jump off that platform and fly. Ultimately, as they move on to bigger realms and higher echelons as Bene has, they know that they can always come back, and that love is ongoing..
We wanted the opportunity to celebrate Black love in its entirety and commissioned this new show with that in mind. It has been so amazing exploring that with Bene, who writes dialogue and romance in a way that no one else can. Our first conversations focused a lot on how it is to be a whole person – experiencing love. We discussed how to express that ‘wholeness’ in regard to Black characters that are so often reduced to an assumed monolith. We wanted to see what would happen if we focused on two individuals, exploring their own sense of selves – right out to the peripheries.
We spent a lot of time discussing what it is to ‘shift’ through time and space – recognising different versions of ourselves. The difference between even the first and second draft was huge, and we got to see Bene grow to really trust herself and arrive at what she does best. She has such a talent for finding the poetry of each character and really understanding their voices.
When people see Shifters, I think they will leave with a fresh perspective on relationships – and what happens when you throw out the rule book. I can see people leaving with a lot of questions to apply to their own life: about decisions they have made, people they should reach out to. So much of the show is about how someone can totally alter your understanding of yourself, and how that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Also I can’t wait to work with Tosin and Heather. What incredible actors we have to tell this story!.’