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Stranger Things: The First Shadow

5
Seen at The Phoenix Theatre, London
By Derek - 5th Apr 2024

Many elements conspire to make the Netflix series "Stranger Things" a binge event. Most of them are recreated on stage in the remarkable "Stranger Things: The First Shadow" at The Phoenix Theatre.

Kate Trefry has written an origin story for the TV series working with ideas from The Duffer brothers and Jack Thorne. In Hawkins, Indiana, 1959, the Creel family arrives for a new start, before the world turns upside down. Many of the characters from the TV series appear as teenagers in what appears to be a regular American town with regular 50s worries. Jim Hopper Junior clashes with the police Chief, his father. Bob Newby tries to impress his girl through his failing radio show, his sister Patty strives to find her place in the family and Joyce Maldonado wants to escape to theatre school. New student Henry Creel struggles to evade his past, but those shadows have a very long reach. Shocks and surprises build the pace, as characters levitate, flesh melts and we glimpse the signature mangled joints.

The revolve allows director Stephen Daldry to glide through many opening scenes, establishing the layers of this world swiftly. This is a long show, yet the pace is unrelenting - it seems they have condensed an eight part series into one evening. Direction and misdirection skilfully manage the revelations.

Miriam Buether has designed a set which appears simple, but conceals trapdoors and reveals which allow the stage to mutate with the action. Video & Visual Effects Design by 59 Productions impressively expands the worlds we can visit and Co-Illusions & Visual Effects Designers Jamie Harrison and Chris Fisher twist reality to supply the shocks. Lighting Designer Jon Clark adds to the mystery : don't blink or you may miss something, usually something grotesque. Paul Arditti’s sound amplifies the mood to shake the floor beneath us. Costume Designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel whisks us back to 1959 with precise attention to period detail.

The cast work impressively as an ensemble; each character is quickly and precisely established and the action swirls round the set. Louis McCartney is immaculate as Henry Creel. It's a dream of a part and he is incredible in bringing so many levels to it. He needs perfect timing for the physical and vocal challenges and is hauntingly proficient.

Matching his performance quality is Ella Karuna Williams as Patty Newby. Her role is not as explosive as his, but she grounds the show and gives focus to the story.

If you don't know the TV show, you may be challenged to follow what is happening, especially in the second half. If you know the show, the way the story evolves is deeply satisfying and true to the unease/ disease of the original. I don't want to give more away, you have to see it for yourself. Just watch the sparks fly!

Derek Benfield


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