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This Week In Theatre: Shifters and The Big Life

Between Windrush dreamers and two ill-timed lovers, this week’s theatre trips were touching, funny and romantic.  Shifters - Bush Theatre  ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Starring Heather Agyepong (School Girls, The Power) and Tosin Cole (Doctor Who, One Love) Shifters tackles the old-age trope of ‘right person, wrong time’ through the lens of Des and Dre.  With dream lighting which carefully reflects the moods of both characters, Benedict Lombe’s debut play examines the epics of young love in a concise one-hour 40-minute run.  Heather and Tosin have stunning chemistry, seamlessly carrying this weighty two-hander through humour and passionate monologues. They soften one another, challenge each other and in their youth, perform a dance akin to peacocking; their early love blossoming on stage.  Lombe’s writing is intimate in the romantic moments, playful in the humorous scenes and left audience members gasping with each revelation Des and Dre peel back about one another.  It looks into their backgrounds and cultural differences with care, highlighting their differences and similarities. Des is British Congolese, the daughter of a middle-class neurologist whereas Dre is British Nigerian, living with his Grandma. She has dreams of becoming an artist, his dream, to be a restaurateur.  Both experience trauma; Heather and Tosin hold each other up seamlessly in these moments, delivering emotive, rousing dialogue the way only lovers can. Des and Dre are laid bare through Alex Berry’s staging which was stripped back and lends itself easily to any one of the scenes our couple find themselves in. There’s no ‘real’ set, instead, the sum of their relationship can be confined to a few boxes, which serves as storage for props alongside seating for the more intimate conversations.  It could have been easy to get lost in the back and forth of Shifters ageing and de-ageing process, but it’s surprisingly easy to keep up with.  With every age shift you can see Tosin and Heather leaning into the emotions that come with the new storylines. Shifters is ultimately for fans of long-lost loves, what-could-have-been and spinning the block.  Shifters runs at Bush Theatre till 30 March .  The Big Life - Stratford East ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Originating out of Jamaica and inspired by Louisiana Rhythm and Blues, Ska music has always had significance in the UK music scene.  Giving a voice to this sound as well as Caribbeans of the Commonwealth, The Big Life is a revival 20 years in the making, inspired by Shakespeare’s Love's Labour's Lost.  Starring Nathanael Campbell, Khalid Daley, Karl Queensborough and Ashley Samuels as Bennie, Dennis, Lennie and Ferdy these men are taking London in their stride.  Their counterparts show up the form of Sybil, Mary, Zulikela and Kathy (Gabrielle Brooks, Leanne Henlon, Rachel John and Juliet Agnes), four no nonsense women who won’t be so easily charmed.  The Big Life gives life to even larger on stage personalities with each cast member tackling their individual songs with amazing vocals. The group numbers are humorous and every cast member has an innate sense of when to hold back and pull no punches during their performances.  Infusing further humour into the play is Eastenders’ actress Tameka Empson, who plays fourth-wall breaker, Mrs Aphrodite. Empson also serves as the play’s writer alongside lyricist Paul Sirett.  Empson’s character is full of appreciation for the Windrush Generation, a passionate line is expelled about the ongoing fight for compensation but she never keeps the mood somber for long, with joyful audience participation theatres like Stratford East are synonymous for.  Despite the racism and intolerance faced by our eight leads, they still overcome with grace and dignity at each turn. Through job refusals and familial deaths, they highlight just how strong members of the Commonwealth had to be when coming to the ‘motherland’.  Well-paced and loads of fun, The Big Life is worth catching before the end of its run on 30 March. It’s proof that twenty years on, the conversations surrounding those who contributed so much to this country are just as relevant. The Big Life runs at Stratford East till 30 March.

This Week In Theatre we're reviewing the revival of 20-year-old, The Big Life as well as the debut play Shifters.

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