Stranger Things The First Shadow - Henry, meet Demogorgon. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Stranger Things: The First Shadow – Reviews

A Reviews Round-up from the London theatre critics for Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre in London.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow opened last night, 14 December 2023, in the West End, and reviews are now coming in for the show, which is based on Netflix smash-hit TV sci-fi drama Stranger Things.

The Stranger Things stage play stars Louis McCartney (Game of Thrones) as Henry Creel, with Isabella Pappas (Finding Alice) as Joyce Maldonaldo; Oscar Lloyd (The 47th) as James Hopper Jnr; Christopher Buckley (David Copperfield) as Bob Newby; and Ella Karuna Williams (The Equalizer) as Patty Newby, alongside Shane Attwooll (Wonder Woman 1984) as Chief Hopper; Christopher Buckley (David Copperfield) as Bob Newby; Michael Jibson (The Essex Serpent; Hamilton) as Victor Creel; Patrick Vaill (Oklahoma!) as Dr Brenner; and Lauren Ward (Dear Evan Hansen) as Virginia Creel.

Also in the cast are Kemi Awoderu (Sue Anderson), Chase Brown (Lonnie Byers), Ammar Duffus (Charles Sinclair), Gilles Geary (Ted Wheeler), Florence Guy (Karen Childress), Max Harwood (Allen Munson), Matthew Pidgeon (Father Newby), Calum Ross (Walter Henderson) and Maisie Norma Seaton (Claudia Henderson); and an ensemble and swings that include Tricia Adele-Turner, Lauren Arney, Reya-Nyomi Brown, Patricia Castro, Lydia Fraser, Isaac Gryn, Mark Hammersley, Tom Peters, Kingdom Sibanda, Tiana Simone, Danny Sykes and Meesha Turner.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is set in Hawkins, Indiana in 1959, as a prequel to events in the TV series.

 The show is written by Kate Trefry (Netflix’s Stranger Things), and has an original story by Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers, award-winning writer Jack Thorne (The Motive and the Cue), and Kate Trefry.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is co-directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, with set design by Miriam Buether, costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting design by Jon Clark, sound design by Paul Arditti, illusions design by Jamie Harrison & Chris Fisher, video design by 59 Productions, movement direction by Coral Messam, wigs, hair and make-up design by Campbell Young Associates, casting by Charlotte Sutton CDG, international casting consultancy by Jim Carnahan, and Gary Beestone for Gary Beestone Associates is Technical Director.

Read reviews from the Guardian, Telegraph, TimeOut and more, with further reviews to be added.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is now booking to 25 August 2024.

Book tickets to Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the Phoenix Theatre in London

Stranger Things: The First Shadow reviews

The Guardian

"Breathtaking theatre"

"This origin story has all the dark mystery of the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix series and delivers one coup de theatre after another"

"It starts with those floating red letters and that electro-ethereal music. The intro creates the surreal effect of Netflix’s sci-fi juggernaut being brought to life as a stage-sized facsimile before our eyes. But the big surprise about this prequel to the TV series, about high-schoolers who tap into the dangerous world of the Upside Down, is that it is neither derivative nor an exercise in imitation. This is breathtaking theatre with its own arresting imagination."

"There is speed, action and scale, with one coup de theatre after another and immense craft in Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin’s co-direction."

"It is truly dark too, with horror film jumps and menacing gurgles (great sound design by Paul Arditti), contrasted with a bright-eyed, retro Americana laid on thick and smatterings of song."

"Those familiar with the series will be able to trace storylines back but the production is not just a clever parlour game for fans. If you come at it afresh, it is still irresistible."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Evening Standard

"This stunning Phoenix Theatre show will turn you upside down"

"This astonishing experience is full of enough thrills, scares and knowing nods to please fans and the uninitiated in equal measure"

"This astonishing show turns normal expectations of theatre upside down. Director Stephen Daldry has taken the Duffer Brothers’ Eighties-set Netflix sci-fi hit and magicked it into a spectacular, multimedia prequel, full of enough thrills, scares and knowing nods to please fans and the uninitiated in equal measure."

"It’s comparable to the theatrical alchemy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but far more technically sophisticated, pushing monsters into the auditorium while a quintet of assured young lead actors keep things on a – mostly – human scale."

"A couple of lip-pursingly unlikely plot twists shunt Kate Trefry’s bulging narrative past the three-hour mark, but it scarcely matters. As a piece of total theatre, this is streets ahead of anything else."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Telegraph

"Netflix gives the West End its event of the year"

"The stage spin-off of the streaming giant's phenomenal sci-fi series provides a much-needed shot in the arm for the West End"

"... Stranger Things: The First Shadow, which was hoped to be, and proves to be, the theatrical event of the year, and a much-needed shot in the arm for the West End."

"... there’s a troubled lad at the heart of the story – namely, Henry Creel (Louis McCartney, making a spellbinding professional debut)."

"I can’t claim that, as a piece of drama, this is more than high-class hokum but what we get, as spectators, is a game-changing experience, one which combines state-of-the-art video wizardry with the tricks of the theatrical trade – sometimes as simple as roving flash-lights and dizzying stage-revolves. These ensure a suspenseful flow of jaw-dropping coups"

"Standing ovations are ten a penny these days but this show thoroughly deserves the one it gets."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Sunday Times

"Why Stranger Things the play is a mega five-star hit"

"Theatre virgins are flocking to the deceptively daring stage spin-off of Netflix’s TV hit"

"It’s not like any theatre I’ve seen before."

"It is, like its spiritual cousin Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a phenomenon. Not just because it’s good — although it is very good. A landmark in staging. A tremendous technical feat that is also moving, amusing and surprising. But also because it’s pulling in new crowds. And inspiring them to come again."

"It’s seamlessly done, and strikingly well acted. Is it perfect? No, as often with horror, sci-fi or detective stories — this is all three — the resolution is less riveting than the mystery. Yet in the way it surprises and delights and wrongfoots its audience, it’s as good as anything you’ll see all year. Tell a theatre-lover. Tell a theatre-hater too."

Dominic Maxwell, The Sunday Times
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The Financial Times

"Sinister and thrilling trip to the Upside Down"

"The Netflix hit’s theatrical spin-off balances horror and humour to great effect"

"Stranger Things: The First Shadow cleverly mixes the familiar and the unfamiliar. It’s a completely new story — a prequel set in 1959 — meaning fans of the hit Netflix series can check in with favourite characters as teenagers, while those new to Hawkins, Indiana, can feel secure in an original plot."

"Louis McCartney is brilliant in the part: tense, angular and contained, he conveys the thrill and the terror of being in the grip of something raging and dangerous."

"Trefry’s script balances horror and humour, and director Stephen Daldry skilfully shifts from intimate scenes to pulse-quickening moments of shock and grand spectacle."

"This is exhilarating live theatre that unsettles us, above all, by presenting us with some of the darkest recesses of the human mind."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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What's On Stage

"West End sci-fi prequel dials the visual spectacle up to 11"

"From the opening seconds of Stranger Things: The First Shadow, making its world premiere in the West End, you know you’re in for a major visual spectacle."

"Audiences are buffeted by wind, coated in haze, subjected to bloody scenes of gory panic, transported into mysterious realms, and made to witness huge set-pieces. All within the first four minutes. No one has phoned it in with this production"

"One of the production’s greatest strengths is Daldry’s ability to know what gels with a live audience, rather than binge-watching sofa-dwellers. Thrills that work in your living room might not do so in a 1000-seat auditorium. The director stages the show in same way he would do a musical – with mammoth, tech-laden sequences instead of numbers."

"Coming out of the Phoenix – exhausted, exhilerated – I had a strong desire to go back and watch the original TV show. The First Shadow is doing exactly what Netflix wants it to."

Alex Wood, What's On Stage
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Daily Mail

"So insanely visceral it left my jaw on the floor (MAIL ON SUNDAY)"

"This insane, huge-budget, utterly exhausting show closes the theatre year with a ginormous West End hit."

Robert Gore Langton, Daily Mail
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Daily Mail

"Monstrous double visions, flying cats and exploding rats... This show is thrillingly done"

"Yes, it's Netflix milking a brand. Yes, it's the West End indulging in a screen favourite instead of promoting something new. But it's thrillingly done – magic and dramatic."

"Did I fully understand the plot? Absolutely not. Did it matter? Also no."

"Every penny of your exorbitant ticket price is there on stage. There's a Vegas dream sequence, a flying cat that meets a sticky end, an exploding rat, terrifying slow motion falls. Bodies shoot through the ceiling, single characters appear twice before you."

"This could feel like a theme park ride were it not for a witty script by Kate Trefry and outstanding lead performances. Ella Karuna Williams as Patty and Louis McCartney as Henry are (unbelievably) making their professional stage debuts."

Luke Jones, Daily Mail
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The Independent

"Netflix explodes into the West End with thrills galore"

"Humungous projections, a big musical score, an onslaught of foam, dry ice and flares: this big-budget stage play from the ‘Stranger Things’ universe spares no bombastic effect to bring new audiences flocking to the West End"

"... Stranger Things: The First Shadow wants to make one thing clear. This isn’t a quiet, quaint, self-consciously theatrical little play. It’s a massive all-out event calculated to thrill fans of the award-winning Netflix series with explosions, thrills, and jumpscares galore... it’s also got a surprising level of proper theatre cred for anyone who doesn’t come to it intricately versed in Stranger Things lore."

"Giant projections set the scene in loving detail, every scene has tension-building musical underscoring, and you’re never far from a 4D cinema-style onslaught of descending foam, dry ice, or flares. Some of the special effects are magical"

Alice Saville, The Independent
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i News

"A cash cow – but a mesmerising one"

"Who cares is the storyline is a little flimsy? This Netflix prequel is everything a blockbuster production should be: rip-roaring fun"

"... Stranger Things: A First Shadow – written by Jack Thorne (who transplanted the world of Harry Potter to the West End with great success) and Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers and scriptwriter Kate Trefry – is everything a blockbuster production should be: rip-roaring fun."

"As someone who has wholeheartedly bought into the Stranger Things universe, I was enraptured."

"Just as on Netflix, it’s not the monsters or the horror that make The First Shadow so compelling, rather its delicate depiction of teenage friendship. The zingy script comes alive through a spirited explanation of stereotypical high school hierarchy and the sarcasm-fuelled dynamic between the trio."

"The stagecraft is phenomenal, and the near non-stop razzle dazzle distracts from any lack of detail or clarity in the storyline."

Emily Baker, i News
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Daily Express

"I am a theatre critic and Stranger Things: The First Shadow will surprise you"

"Stephen Daldry's theatrical prequel unveils the origins of 'Stranger Things', brimming with science fiction and suspense."

"Director Stephen Daldry summons all of his theatrical and film-making powers like a latter day Prospero. Together with an army of technicians, illusionists and video designers, he creates an intoxicating cocktail of science fiction and horror that makes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child look like Noddy in Toyland."

"Using vertiginous videos and film inserts as well as illusions of smoky, tentacled aliens, the play – written by Kate Trefry from a story by the Duffer Brothers and Jack Thorne – riffs around generational conflict and science fiction paranoia. Trading off the Red Scare of the 1950s and the shifting tectonic plates of Western culture, Daldry and his crew throw everything into the mix including a razzle dazzle dance sequence. This is Theatre of Sensation, Grand Guignol for the modern age."

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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The Observer

"Stranger Things takes theatrical spectacle to the next dimension"

"The feast of Stranger Things: The First Shadow makes most technologically inventive productions look like finger food. The writing is wonky but oh the dash, the drive, the grab of the staging."

"As the world goes Upside Down, as fair becomes foul, technology is not just a means or an add-on, it is part of the subject, our other dimension."

"Daldry brought juvenile acting to a new level in Billy Elliot, and raises the game here too. As the villain-hero, Louis McCartney makes a terrific stage debut, clenched and flailing, utterly natural and completely otherwordly. There may come a day (though it’s hard to imagine now) when these whizzing effects no longer startle, but McCartney’s acting will go on making characters seem new."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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"‘Stranger Things’ fans should get down to this stage prequel pronto, but the visually stunning show would have been so much better with a ruthless edit"

"‘Stranger Things: The First Shadow’ is a sprawling maximalist monolith, a gargantuan entertainment that goes beyond being a mere ‘play’. It’s too unwieldy and too indulgent to be a theatrical classic. But nonetheless, this prequel to the Netflix retro horror smash is the very antithesis of a cynical screen-to-stage adaptation."

"As overwhelming in scale as as the show’s monstrous Mindflayer, it’s a seethingly ambitious three-hour extravaganza of groundbreaking special effects, gratuitous easter eggs and a wild, irreverent theatricality that feels totally in love with the source material while being appreciably distinct from it."

"It starts as it means to go on, with pretty much the most technically audacious opening ten minutes of a show I’ve ever seen, as we watch a US naval vessel deploy an experimental cloaking device in 1943, to catastrophic effect."

Dominic Cavendish, TimeOut
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The Times

"You need to be a fan to follow this prequel"

"If you’re familiar with Henry Creel, Joyce Maldonado and the other denizens of the town of Hawkins, home to a mysterious experimental centre, there’s fun to be had in identifying backstories and clues scattered across a lavish stage adaptation that opens in 1943 and quickly shifts to 1959. But the first-time playwright Kate Trefry, a writer and co-executive producer on the TV series, doesn’t begin to make the story accessible to newcomers."

"The dialogue is crisp, the young cast is terrific throughout and Stephen Daldry’s lavish production opens with an imposing scene that resembles a comic strip writ large, the prow of a US navy destroyer..."

"We see the fragile, young Henry (Louis McCartney is superb) struggling with the effects of his psychic powers, while Isabella Pappas’s Joyce — desperate to broaden her horizons — takes charge of a high school play while a bunch of friends try to solve the mystery of why local pets are meeting a grisly death."

Clive Davis, The Times
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"West End Play Brings Netflix Series Thrillingly to Life"

"... immense, intense theatricality is there for all to see. Are the three plot-driven hours of virtuoso, state-of-the-art stagecraft always matched by sustained drama? Not quite. Does that matter? Not at all."

"At the time of the opening, 55% of audiences were first-time theatergoers. This neatly underlines the idea that no one going to see this theatrical spin-off from Netflix’s four-season phenomenon is looking for a well-made play. They’re in search of a more visceral, live hit of the show’s successful comedy-horror-sci-fi combination, and that’s what director Stephen Daldry’s eye-widening, often heart-racing production delivers."

"The laughs — and here the comedy element is mercifully intact — the shudders, the gasps and, at the most spectacular moments, the screams throughout the auditorium are testament to its effectiveness."

"It’s not just the ideal control of light, sound stings and alarming visions that impresses. Netflix has clearly emptied its coffers here, but it’s not the budget on display, it’s the imaginative flair used to create astonishing fluidity."

David Benedict, Variety
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The New York Times

"Onstage, the ‘Stranger Things’ Franchise Eats Itself"

"“Stranger Things: The First Shadow,” a London theater show based on the Netflix series, pummels the audience with sensory overload and its lavish budget."

"... “Stranger Things” — brings a high-octane, TV-movie sensibility to the stage, pummeling the audience with horror-show frights and sensory overload: eerie smoke effects, mind-boggling levitations, scary vocal distortions reminiscent of “The Exorcist” and noise — so much noise."

"It’s a gaudy, vertiginous fairground ride of a play, exactly what you’d expect from a show co-produced by Netflix: Cheap thrills, expensively made."

"Amid the horror, the play carries a sentimental message about young misfits finding solace and community."

"Some of the backdrops are staggeringly elaborate."

"In its totality, the production is lavish to the point of embarrassment, and the sheer scale of the thing is hard to reconcile with the play’s rather modest intellectual aspirations and lack of originality."

Houman Barekat, The New York Times
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New York Post

"Netflix stage play is a total disaster"

"“Stranger Things: The First Shadow,” the streamer’s freshman attempt at a stage play is a huge, insufferable embarrassment."

"Mega-fans of the TV series, like me, will be extremely disappointed by how the live show, which opened Thursday night at the Phoenix Theatre in London, epically fails to conjure the magic and small-town charm of the Duffer brothers’ popular creation. This bloated behemoth bears zero resemblance to your favorite binge-watch. What’s strange is that all this money and talent amounts to such a shambles."

"... it’s in Henry the show has its sole virtue — newcomer Louis McCartney. The fantastic actor, who’s making his professional stage debut, is tortured, terrifying, and mesmeric as the future all-powerful villain. He unnaturally contorts his body as if he’s being exercised by Father Karras, is emotionally gripping, and makes an unshakable impression on his audience. A new star."

Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post
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BBC News

"The theatrical spin-off from the Netflix mega-hit is funny and thrilling"

"It's the biggest franchise on TV – and now Stranger Things has branched out into the theatre with an original play premiering in London's West End. The result is a success in its own right."

"A show like this is artistically successful if it's enjoyable in its own right but also provides an authentic-feeling addition to the Stranger Things universe. It ticks both those boxes. On the night I attended, the audience cheered when the lights went down, applauded the prologue and the end of the first act and gave a standing ovation at the end. Does it advance our understanding of the human condition or illuminate any of the eternal verities? Probably not. But it is a great night out filled with thrills, gasps and laughs."

Neil Armstrong, BBC News
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Stranger Things: The First Shadow

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📷 Main photo: Stranger Things The First Shadow - Henry, meet Demogorgon. Photo by Manuel Harlan

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