Stranger Things - The First Shadow

“In any dimension 'Stranger Things - The First Shadow' deserves a five-star rating"

From the opening moments to the final scene, 'Stranger Things - The First Shadow' held me captivated throughout its entirety. For those unfamiliar with the world of Stranger Things, I wholeheartedly recommend this experience. While it pays homage to the TV show, being a 'prequel' allows it to introduce characters and events without relying on prior knowledge.

Avoiding any spoilers, let's delve into the theatrical elements. This production serves as a unique bridge between the vidiot generation and live theatre. The show's start, featuring a projection where the safety curtain would traditionally be, immediately establishes the era and tone. Subsequently, the opening cutaway with the logo transforms the experience into more of a live-action movie than a conventional theatrical performance.

The collaborative efforts of 59 Productions, Jamie Harrison & Chris Fisher, known for his work on "The Time Traveller's Wife" are evident in the exceptional video, illusions, and visual effects. Fisher's expertise reaches a new, slightly twisted level in this production, leaving the audience breathless.

A word of caution regarding illusions: the streaming version carries a 15 certificate, with some episodes rated 12 due to the realism of certain illusions, including one involving an exploding animal. While most audience members will recognise the use of puppets, video, and trickery, younger viewers may find some scenes disturbing. A spider warning is also warranted.

The immersive experience extends beyond the stage, with projections and puppetry incorporated into the proscenium, for this reason I would try to sit slightly further back and more central. Actors venture into the auditorium, creating a dynamic atmosphere. It's essential for the audience to remain respectful, even when performers are not on the main stage, some thought this was part of the interval and began to talk.

This three-hour production, including an interval, surprisingly flies by. Director Stephen Daldry guides the audience through a journey that seamlessly transitions from crashed battleships and secret nerd handshakes to moments of tension and even light-heartedness that wouldn’t be out of place in a musical.

Oscar Lloyd shines in a scene displaying impeccable comic timing and vocal prowess as James Hopper Jr. While delving further into this would risk spoilers, it's a standout moment worth enjoying first hand.

In his professional stage debut, Louis McCartney delivers an impressive performance as Henry Creel, seamlessly blending warmth and creepiness. The West End debut of Ella Karuna Williams as Patty Newby showcases her vulnerability through voice and song, with her character evolving and featuring a spectacular slow-motion sequence. Casting director Jessica Ronane CDG deserves commendation for taking risks with emerging talents.

Numerous creatives enhance the production, from Dialect Coach William Conacher ensuring perfect vocal performances to Sound Designer Paul Arditti providing rumbles and immersive surround sound. Special mention goes to the Duffer Brothers for their overall contributions.

In any dimension Stranger Things - The First Shadow deserves a five-star rating.

This show was reviewed on the 15th December 2023.  Stranger Things - The First Shadow runs at The Phoenix Theatre, London until the 25th August 2024.  Tickets available here: Stranger Things: The First Shadow | Phoenix Theatre, London | Official Site (strangerthingsonstage.com)

Review written by Valentine Gale-Sides

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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