Stranger Things: The First Shadow – critics call prequel play ‘breathtaking’

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Bob, Jim and Joyce, who are adult characters in the TV series, are shown as teenagers in the play
By Yasmin Rufo
BBC News

Stranger Things took Netflix by storm in 2016 – now it’s the turn of London’s West End to be dazzled, with the world premiere of a spin-off stage show getting a string of five-star reviews.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is a prequel to the hit 1980s-set TV series.

It follows a group of young friends who witness supernatural events in 1959 in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana.

The Telegraph said it is the West End “event of the year”, and The Guardian said “this parallel world is a winner”.

The paper’s chief theatre critic Arifa Akbar wrote that the play was “breathtaking theatre with its own arresting imagination” and “not just a clever parlour game for fans”.

She added: “If you come at it afresh, it is still irresistible.”

‘Unforgettable atmosphere’

In another five-star review, Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph wrote: “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…

“It’s not so much the play, as the unforgettable atmosphere that’s the thing,” he added, making reference to the “jaw-dropping coups, fog-shrouded start and acts of levitation and jolting violence”.

The play follows Henry Creel, played by Louis McCartney

Based on a story co-created by Matt and Ross Duffer, the brothers who created the TV series, the play follows Bob Newby, Jim Hopper and Joyce Maldonado as high school teenagers investigating the mysterious deaths of pets.

It also tells the origin story of troubled teenager Henry Creel, who goes on to become Vecna, the ruler of the Upside Down in season four of the TV series.

Variety’s David Benedict praised Louis McCartney for his performance as Henry, “a shuddering, terrified nerd whose monster creates havoc without and horror within”.

Benedict said the success of the play “is due in no small part to the way he holds focus even in the midst of one coup-de-theatre after another”.

The play is directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Kate Trefry

In a more balanced review, the New York Times said: “One is left simultaneously impressed and a little bewildered.”

Houman Barekat called the production “lavish to the point of embarrassment” and added that the “gaudy, vertiginous fairground ride of a play is exactly what you’d expect from a show co-produced by Netflix: Cheap thrills, expensively made”.

In her four-star review, the Independent’s Alice Saville also mentioned how the play pulls out all the stops, saying it “spares no bombastic effect” with its “humungous projections, a big musical score, an onslaught of foam, dry ice and flare”.

However, the Times awarded the play two stars and said it “doesn’t begin to make the story accessible to newcomers”, and the three-hour play has “little sense of depth to the individual characters or how they relate to one another”.

The TV show has been renewed for a fifth season, and filming will start in January.

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