Culture Writer Daisy Carr reviews Stranger Things: The First Shadow, praising the cast performances in this theatrical prequel to the hit Netflix series

Written by Daisy Carr

I have been a Stranger Things fan since the first season in 2016, stumbling upon it by accident. The 80s setting instantly caught my eye, and being a massive sci-fi nerd I had to give it a go. I loved it so much I made everyone I knew watch it, and I rewatched it with my mum. It has now become tradition for us to binge every new season as soon as they drop. For my birthday this year, we both went to watch the stage show Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the Phoenix Theatre in London, and it reignited my Stranger Things love. I am in my Stranger Things era right now. It is fascinating to see how big the show has become and how the canon has expanded as a result. Fans want more, and the Duffer Brothers, the creators of the series, are providing that. 

Set in 1959, Stranger Things: The First Shadow follows Henry Creel (Louis McCartney) pre Vecna, whose family has just moved to Hawkins seeking a fresh start. Henry has a dark secret, and sees the move as an opportunity to try and become a ‘normal’ teenager, joining the school play and hanging out with Patty Newby (Ella Karuna Williams). This, however, is Hawkins, so evil is always lurking around the corner…

It is fascinating to see how big the show has become and how the canon has expanded as a result

The First Shadow is a prequel, which is already tricky territory since it has to be extremely careful not to contradict events in the Netflix series. A majority of the characters are the parents of the kids and teenagers in the main series, so in one way or another we have met them all. The cast mostly manage to capture the characteristics of the older adults in the show, but are also similar to the kids in the series. One of my favourites of the adults in The First Shadow is Ted Wheeler. In the series, he is shown as a boring, absent, and oblivious father to Nancy and Mike; however, in the stage show, he is a popular jock. Truly the definition of ‘peaked in high school.’ 

There are a few issues with the adults I personally have, one being Dustin Henderson’s father, Walter Henderson (Calum Ross). Dustin is one of my favourite characters in the show, as he is hilarious and very wholesome, but Walter is a bit of a jerk, which completely contradicts Dustin’s character. However, Walter is absent from the television series, so this may be the reason.

McCartney’s performance as Henry Creel is a standout for me

McCartney’s performance as Henry Creel is a standout for me. For most of the show, I was convinced he was the actual Henry Creel from the series (Raphael Luce) since they look very similar. McCartney perfectly encapsulates a struggling teenager with his broken, cracking voice and lack of social skills around girls – as well as the classic problem of having a literal demon in your body. Being a teen is great!

It is clear that a lot of effort has gone into the set design and practical effects. The opening scene is set on a boat, and the depth created just by projectors is phenomenal – it really looks like an actual boat is onstage! The set pieces are equally amazing; from a school hallway to a lab room, they all look incredibly authentic and really engross you in the show. At some points, actors dressed in hazmats walk down the aisles, which is a pleasant surprise (if you do not like audience participation, do not get an aisle seat).

A lot of effort has gone into the set design and practical effects

At three hours long, I was nervous at how engaged I would be throughout the show, but I was amazed at how The First Shadow kept me hooked all the way through. The play does not feel like three hours long because so much is going on and the cast are incredible. I highly recommend checking out Stranger Things: The First Shadow, especially if you are a Stranger Things fan. 

Rating: 5/5

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