Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: Phoenix Theatre, London
Cast: Christopher Buckley, Oscar Lloyd, Louis McCartney, Isabella Pappas and Ella Karuna Williams

Hawkins, 1959: a regular town with regular worries. Young Jim Hopper’s car won’t start, Bob Newby’s sister won’t take his radio show seriously and Joyce Maldonado just wants to graduate and get the hell out of town. When new student Henry Creel arrives, his family finds that a fresh start isn’t so easy… and the shadows of the past have a very long reach. This gripping new adventure will take you right back to the beginning of the Stranger Things story – and may hold the key to the end.

With Stranger Things being one of the most popular TV series in recent years, the hype and expectations for this production were particularly high. I had doubts that they could bring the magic of Stranger Things to the stage, but what I witnessed yesterday floored me. The entire production is a visual masterpiece, and it feels as though you're watching a prequel episode live on stage.

The play follows the events before Henry Creel becomes infamous villain, Vecna. While the story is completely new, there are many links to characters we know and love, and it's great to delve into the teenage years of these fan favourites. The story follows Henry's move to Hawkins with his family as he attends a new school and learns to adjust to his new environment. In doing so, he meets Bob's adopted Sister, Patty. As a pair of self-proclaimed misfits, they form a bond - and Henry thinks she could be the key to saving him from his nightmares. However, when neighbourhood pets start disappearing, it isn't long before things take a dark turn. 

The production is split into two acts, and each feels like it's own episode. The writing feels so authentic to the show, and believable to the story and plot we already know. However, this should come as no surprise as the show was created and written by the Duffer Brothers, Kate Trefry (Stranger Things writers), and Jack Thorne (British playwright). 

While the entire cast are exceptional, Louis McCartney (who plays Henry) gave one of the greatest theatre performances I've ever seen. The demand and toll the role must have on his body physically is unlike anything I've seen on stage. He captures Henry's descent into madness perfectly, and he's a fleshed out, flawed, yet somehow likeable character.

Mentions must also be made to Oscar Lloyd (Jim Hopper) and Isabella Pappas (Joyce) who completely embodied the younger version of the TV show favourites, and had palpable chemistry throughout. And Patrick Vaill as Dr Brenner is ridiculously creepy, which Vaill always seems to portray particularly well. Even down to Brenner's body language and tone of voice, Vaill has clearly studied the character in depth.

The staging, set and design is what sets this production apart from the rest. If you're wondering why the tickets are so expensive, it's because this show is an absolute spectacle. The special effects are like nothing the West End has ever seen, and likely will never see again in the foreseeable future. So props to Miriam Buether, Jon Clark, Paul Arditti, Jamie Harrison, Chris Fisher and 59 Productions for creating something masterful. I also particularly enjoyed the immersivity of the play. The characters often came into the audience (at all ticket levels) and as an audience member, this made it even easier to get lost in the magic of theatre.

The music from D.J. Walde feels very in theme with the TV series, while also transporting us back to the 60's. If you're into 60's music, there's a great selection of music throughout which really helps to set the scene.

As someone who isn't a self-professed lover of plays, I thought I'd struggle with the length of this piece, at just over three hours long. However, I left feeling as though I could have sat and watched more; it was that gripping and much like watching a live horror film. What could have been cringy and missed the mark is funny and believable to the original source material. This makes it perfect for any avid Stranger Things fan, or any new visitors to the Upside Down. As a lover of the TV series, I found the full circle-esque ending of the production extremely satisfying

I can not recommend Stranger Things: the First Shadow enough. If I could give it six stars, I would. A production I don't see leaving London's West End any time soon.

You can book tickets to see Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the Phoenix Theatre, here.

**photo credit to Manuel Harlan**

No comments