Guide to 'Stranger Things: The First Shadow' in the West End

Learn more about Netflix's highly anticipated Stranger Things: The First Shadow, which will begin performances at the Phoenix Theatre this November.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

The strange goings-on in Hawkins, Indiana, and its supernatural nether realm, the Upside Down, have kept Netflix viewers gripped ever since the sci-fi series began back in 2016. We’ve followed breathlessly as the 1980s-set action unfollowed, beginning with a very unusual girl, Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven, befriending a group of kids, just as one of them disappears.

Now, the world of Stranger Things comes to the theatre for the first time in a West End show. Stranger Things: The First Shadow begins at London’s Phoenix Theatre in November, and it’s got serious creative pedigree – including writer Jack Thorne, director Stephen Daldry, and the backing of super-producer Sonia Friedman.

So, what can you expect from this theatrical Stranger Things? Will it feature our favourite characters? And is it the same story or something new? Read on for our guide, ahead of booking your tickets to this must-see event.

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What is Stranger Things about?

The streaming series, created by the Duffer Brothers, is set in a small rural town in the 1980s. It’s seemingly a normal American neighbourhood, but there’s a nefarious lab nearby performing experiments, and scientists there have created a portal to another dimension: the terrifying Upside Down.

In the first season, a creature from the Upside Down abducts Will Byers, one of a group of friends who regularly meet up to play Dungeons and Dragons. His mother Joyce (played by Winona Ryder) keeps searching for him, helped by police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), while Will’s friends – Mike, Dustin and Lucas – also investigate his disappearance, aided by a mysterious runaway girl with telekinetic powers, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

The next few seasons deepen this core group, along with new arrival Max and other characters like the older teens: Mike’s older sister Nancy, her boyfriend Jonathan, her ex Steve, and Steve’s crush Robin (Maya Hawke). Hopper adopts Eleven, but they’re separated when he’s imprisoned in a Russian gulag in the most recent fourth season. There’s also a slow-burn romance between Joyce and Hopper.

The story will wrap up in season five, although shooting is currently on hiatus due to the Hollywood strike.

Is Stranger Things: The First Shadow based on the TV show?

Yes! The theatre version of this gripping tale is definitely set in the same world as the Stranger Things TV series. It also takes place in Hawkins, Indiana, and promises a similar mix of human drama and supernatural scares.

However, while the streaming series is set in the 1980s (and riffs off work by the likes of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Steven King), Stranger Things: The First Shadow is set in the 1950s instead. So, this prequel will tell a new story, rather than just staging the TV narrative – but one that ties in with the characters we already know and love.

That means it’s definitely worth seeing if you’ve followed Stranger Things up to this point, since it won’t just be repeating the same tale. But there will likely be lots of ‘Easter eggs’ for fans to spy: teases about what’s to come.

Who are the major characters in Stranger Things: The First Shadow?

Just like in the series, Joyce and Hopper will have a major presence in The First Shadow. In this 1950s era, Joyce Maldonado (later Byers) is a high school student who longs to graduate and get the hell out of town. A young Jim Hopper’s biggest worry at this point is that his car won’t start, while Bob Newby is working on his radio show. In the TV series, a grown-up Bob (played by Sean Astin) runs a Radio Shack and becomes a love interest for Joyce.

We also know that a prominent character in this new play is a new student, Henry Creel. He has a key part to play in the TV show: he was put in the same psychiatric facility as Eleven after he murdered his family (Henry also has special powers), and Eleven sent him to the Upside Down. There he became the demonic Vecna, and, using a monster called the Mind Flayer, he took control of the whole dimension.

It will be fascinating for Stranger Things devotees to learn more about Henry’s origin story in the theatre show, as well as seeing our lead characters as teenagers – plus we’ll get to know more residents of Hawkins and more about the town as it was in 1959, potentially even getting some hints about the conclusion of the series. But this also operates as a standalone spooky story, so you don’t need to be a superfan to follow it.

Who is in the Stranger Things: The First Shadow cast?

It has just been announced that this major world premiere will star Isabella Pappas as Joyce Maldonado, Christopher Buckley as Bob Newby, Oscar Lloyd as James Hopper Jr, and Louis McCartney as Henry Creel.

Shane Attwooll also features as Chief Hopper, Michael Jibson as Victor Creel, Patrick Vaill as Dr Brenner, Matthew Pidgeon as Father Newby, Lauren Ward as Viriginia Creel, Kemi Awoderu as Sue Anderson, Chase Brown as Lonnie Byers, Calum Ross as Walter Henderson, Ella Karuna Williams as Patty Newby, Ammar Duffus as Charles Sinclair, Gilles Geary as Ted Wheeler, Florence Guy as Karen Childress, Max Harwood as Allen Munson, and Maisie Norma Seaton as Claudia Henderson.

The company is completed by 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.

Who is in the Stranger Things: The First Shadow creative team?

This intriguing new play is written by Kate Trefry, the Emmy-nominated story editor of the Stranger Things TV show, with a story by playwright Jack Thorne, whose many hits include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the West End and his TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

The show is directed by Stephen Daldry, an Oscar nominee for Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader, and regular director for Netflix’s The Crown. On stage, his many acclaimed productions include The Inheritance, Billy Elliot and An Inspector Calls (he won Tonys for all three).

The creative team also features illusions and visual effects from Jamie Harrison and Chris Fisher, who between them have worked on Cursed Child, *The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Time Traveller’s Wife, Back to the Future, 2:22 A Ghost Story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,* and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Expect jaw-dropping work from them.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is an exciting opportunity for this stellar team to show how theatre can produce its own magic – and be just as epic, ambitious and otherworldly, in a different but equally thrilling way.

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