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Stranger Things: The First Shadow


Phoenix Theatre

Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0JP 0333 009 6690

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  • Synopsis
  • Theatremonkey show opinion
  • Reader reviews
  • Performance schedule
  • Ticket prices

WHERE TO BUY TICKETS / "BUY OR AVOID" SEAT GUIDE

Captioned performance: 24th August 2024 at 1pm
Signed performance: 17th August 2024 at 1pm
Audio described performance: 18th August 2024 at 3pm

Small town USA 1959. Henry Creel and his family arrive to start a new life. For local youngsters Jim Hopper, Bob Newby and Joyce Maldonado, things change.

Based on the Netflix television series, this is an original story taking place at the beginning of things - and possibly hinting at how they will end.

(seen at the afternoon preview performance on 12th December 2023)

For those like the monkey who don’t have paid television channels thanks to not having enough time to watch even much terrestrial TV, “Stranger Things” is just another phenomenon it knows nothing about beyond hearing of its success.

Thus it is in the interesting position of being able to discuss whether this stage version is likely to be of interest to the keen theatregoer without any pre-knowledge.

The answer is that provided you read the crucial programme notes beforehand which explain the concept of alternative universe “Upside Down” and that the lead character’s son vanishes at the start of the television series, then this will work for you as a play.

Being set in the 1950s, decades before the 1980s of the television series helps, as the characters are created fresh so there is no pre-history needed. Speaking to keen fans seated beside it, what those without knowledge will apparently miss are constant “oh yes” moments as “back history” of much-loved characters is filled in.

Playwright Kate Trefry works with original show writers The Duffer Brothers and wonder-writer Jack Thorne to create a script which sometimes veers too far towards television rather than theatrical language. The pace drops but recovers as the theatrical parts of the television programme redress the balance.

Constructed like a TV programme with a spectacular pre-titles sequence – Jamie Harrison and Chris Fisher as illusion and visual effects designers earning their money alongside set designer Miriam Buether from the start. Further in, the creepy stuff continues, and it is no spoiler to say that arachnophobes may prefer seats at the back... or in another theatre altogether.

Stephen Daldry makes good use of the almost constantly revolving stage to keep nearly three hours of action moving like the series source. The first half has more action, the second is mostly static as we move further into the science-fiction realm.

The cast are required not only to act, but take part in stunts, magic, fights, dance routines (notes for Coral Messam, Gerrard Martin, Mateus Daniel, Lynn Page and Kev McCurdy’s work) as the tale unfolds.

In a huge cast it is difficult to pick out a few as all deserve comment. The most notable would be Louis McCartney as new arrival Henry Creel. Misfit by nature or is something more sinister at work? It’s a creepy performance whichever, redeemed as he allows the good to shine through.

Meeting Dr Brenner, Patrick Vaill is nuanced in his examination of Creel. Clinical yet never revealing much about true motivations and producing some chilling second act scenes.

Equally cold, Shane Attwooll as Chief Hopper is a brutal bully, his son James giving Oscar Lloyd the opportunity to exploit a delightful character arc from victim to someone willing to fight back.

Far happier, school Principal’s daughter Claudia Yount has one of the few truly happy sequences, Maisie Norma Seaton making the most of her personal drama and radiating a feeling of adrift in the world.

Trying to escape her world, Isabella Pappas as Joyce Maldonado has dreams after high school. That she becomes a leading character in the television show later is a pre-signal of her story here. Still, Pappas returns to the West End stage for the first time as an adult and gives us the full benefit of her clear diction and expressiveness only a teenage girl like Joyce can radiate.

The ensemble works hard over three hours. With that running time there are plot holes – the use of blindfolds to change dimension is not consistent or particularly well explained. The ending could also be re-arranged, as the more natural conclusion occurs before the actual one. Moot for fans, but non-fans would probably be more satisfied that way.

Still, the point is a well-considered spin-off which is far more than a simple “cash-in” extension of the franchise and is accessible to the majority. Engaging story staged with originality and with a cast without a weak link. The First Shadow could herald the dawn of an international event.

Legacy reader reviews

We were both blown away by it. We are both huge fans of the TV show so were really riveted by the prequel story about Henry Creel. We thought the whole cast were great and the special effects were fantastic. I thought it was interesting as when you are watching a show, people are usually fidgeting, coughing etc but the whole audience were completely silent and seemed captivated by it all.

We were sitting J1 and 2 in the Grand Circle but could see everything absolutely fine so glad we didn't buy expensive tickets.

The monkey advises checking performance times on your tickets and that performances are happening as scheduled, before travelling.

Tuesday to Thursday at 7pm
Friday and Saturday at 1pm and 7pm
Sunday at 3pm
NO MONDAY PERFORMANCES.

Runs 3 hours approximately.

WHERE TO BUY TICKETS / "BUY OR AVOID" SEAT GUIDE

Theatres use "dynamic pricing." Seat prices change according to demand for a particular performance. Prices below were compiled as booking originally opened. Current prices are advised at time of enquiry.

 

Phoenix Theatre prices seating plan
Tuesday to Thursday Evenings and Friday Afternoons
Phoenix Theatre prices seating plan
Friday Evenings, Saturday Afternoons and Sunday Afternoons
Phoenix Theatre prices seating plan
Saturday Evenings and all "peak week" performances

LOTTERY: Visit Stranger Things for details. Run by Todaytix, you can enter every Friday until the following Monday.
Each Monday, a draw will be held for tickets to shows the following week. The price is £19.59 per ticket.
Seats may be anywhere, including the front row.
If notified as a winner, you will have 30 minutes to claim your tickets.
Maximum 2 tickets per winner.

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