Stranger Things: The First Shadow is a thrilling West End production

Experience the eerie origins of Stranger Things in the prequel stage play Stranger Things: The First Shadow. We got to see the play in London; here's our review!

Stranger Things: The First Shadow stage play created by Duffer Brothers, starts late 2023.
Stranger Things: The First Shadow stage play created by Duffer Brothers, starts late 2023. /

We have a bit of a wait ahead of us before the fifth and final season of Stranger Things premieres on Netflix. We probably won't be returning to Hawkins, Indiana until 2025. Luckily, there is something to hold us over.

In December 2023, the stage play Stranger Things: The First Shadow began its run in London's West End at the Phoenix Theatre. Of course, to get your fill of Stranger Things, you will have to travel to London, but let me be the first to tell you, it just might be worth it.

The play is a prequel to the Netflix series that takes place in 1959, in Hawkins. That's about 24 years before the events of Stranger Things, to give you context. Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin and written by Kate Trefry (alongside the Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer and The Cursed Child's Jack Thorne), Stranger Things: First Shadow tells the story of the uncanny, mysterious events that started to take place in Hawkins when the Creel family first moved in.

If you thought you knew the story of the Upside Down, Stranger Things: First Shadow will remind you there is plenty more to uncover.

What is Stranger Things: The First Shadow about?

The First Shadow reintroduces us to some of the characters we already know and love from the TV show back when they were teenagers. We've got the trio of Joyce Maldonado (Isabella Pappas), Jim Hopper (Oscar Lloyd), and Bob Newby (Christopher Buckley), who are all navigating their high school journeys together. It's fun to see different sides to each of them; Joyce is the director of the high school play, Jim is starting to get into policing, and Bob is the host of his own radio show. We recognize the people they'll become decades later, but they're more innocent here.

Many characters in the play have some connection to other characters in the Netflix show. We meet Lucas Sinclair's parents, Eddie Munson's father, Will and Jonathan's dad, and so on. While a lot of them aren't dating or together during the play, it is funny to note that everyone seemed to end up with someone from high school in their later years. The dating pool isn't that big in Hawkins, is it?

But the main focus of the play is the Creel family, particularly young Henry Creel (Louis McCartney), the boy who would become Vecna. I don't want to give away spoilers here, but McCartney's performance as Henry, and his evolution into the frightening character he becomes, is out of this world. I thought the show was frightening, but let me tell you, the play takes it a few levels higher.

Throughout the play, Henry tries to work against the force of nature that is the Upside Down. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to resist. But it is easy to succumb to the evil that it represents.

The play focuses on Henry's journey, and the tragic and gruesome events that eventually take place as Henry gives into the powers of the Upside Down.

Lauren Arney, Benjamin Lafayette, Tricia Adele-Turner, Samuel Baxter, Patricia Castro, Mark Hammersley, Ella Karuna Williams, Tom Peters, Kingdom Sibanda, Lydia Fraser, Isaac Gryn, Tiana Simone, Danny Sykes
"Stranger Things: The First Shadow" - Press Night - Curtain Call / Dave Benett/GettyImages

Stranger Things: The First Shadow will blow you away!

Apart from the magnificent storytelling and stellar performances by the cast, the production value of this play is unlike anything I've seen before. Whether it's Creel's encounters with the Upside Down or sudden mood changes of characters depicted through lighting, fog, and shadow work, this play does a phenomenal job of using special effects to keep you engaged from start to finish.

Netflix is a part of this production, which means it's working with a big budget. They spend money on screens, advanced lighting, incredible use of sound, and more. Most plays don't have these kinds of resources, but Netflix went all out with Stranger Things: The First Shadow. Some theatre-goers may not like this aspect, but I thought it was a joy to take in. In particular, the set design of the Creel house attic and the moments where Henry Creel melts down are worth taking note of. It's simply marvelous.

A lot of the events of season 4 are presented as canon in the play, which makes the experience even more exciting if you go in having already watched the show. All the moments involving the Creel family as well as Henry's descent into madness are presented as we recall them from the series, and every second is gripping.

To sum it all up (if that is even possible), Stranger Things: The First Shadow gives us everything we could want from a Stranger Things stage production. Whether it is the loud, haunting music that takes over the theater, the excellent cast that recalls the Netflix actors or the magnificent special effects, this play has it all. It pulls you into the world of Stranger Things and provides a haunting context to the story we think we know everything about.

If you are in the London area between now and August 2024, I highly recommend checking out Stranger Things: The First Shadow. Tickets are available here -- I can assure you that you will not regret it!

Next. Stranger Things season 5 officially begins production at Netflix. Stranger Things season 5 officially begins production at Netflix. dark

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