A star rating of 4 out of 5.

For Stranger Things fans, it's been a long time coming, but the announcement that a play, titled The First Shadow, was coming to London's West End was in equal parts exciting and fear-inducing.


After all, it's an inevitable but disconcerting moment for fans of a popular franchise when the spin-offs begin. It could be brilliant – but equally, it could harm the franchise's reputation forever. So no pressure!

Thankfully, Stranger Things: The First Shadow falls into the first category, taking everything that's brilliant about the show and beautifully adapting it for stage.

The story follows a young Henry Creel, who we meet in season 4 of the Netflix show. He's just moved to Hawkins with his family, and has started at Hawkins High, alongside a mix of classmates that will be very familiar to fans – Joyce Maldonado, James 'Jim' Hopper Jr, Bob Newby and more, plus new character Patty Newby, Bob's adopted sister.

As Henry gets close to Patty, we find out disturbing tales from his past and see these shadows creeping into his life at Hawkins – and, before long, taking over.

While the play starts a little slow, the deeper we delve into the story, the more gripping it becomes, leading to a perfectly chilling ending. It perfectly avoids re-hashing the series too heavily or, on the other end of the spectrum, straying too far into unfamiliar territory, striking a perfect balance to bring us something new with plenty of Easter eggs for fans. The ending in particular is sure to elicit gasps from the audience as things start to get very familiar – and there's no doubt we'll see Vecna in a different light from now on.

It's a joy to see a young Joyce Maldonado and Jim Hopper, played beautifully by Isabella Pappas and Oscar Lloyd, but it's Louis McCartney as Henry Creel who has the stand-out moments that fans will remember long after they've left the theatre.

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Patrick Vaill (Dr Brenner), Louis McCartney (Henry Creel) in Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Patrick Vaill (Dr Brenner) and Louis McCartney (Henry Creel) in Stranger Things: The First Shadow. Manuel Harlan

His chemistry with his co-stars, particularly Ella Karuna Williams as Patty, feels easy, with the pair seamlessly slipping between laugh-out-loud comedy and brutal tragedy. His attention to detail is astonishing, flawlessly gliding through complex choreography and deeply emotional moments, and his scenes with Patrick Vaill's Dr Brenner are quietly gripping.

It's not just the actors' talents that bring the story to life so beautifully. The staging is unlike any other show brought to London's West End, honouring the TV series in various ways with a mix of constant movement, clever projection, incredible use of body doubles, flawless choreography and, of course, good old dry ice. It's almost impossible to fully appreciate the staging from a one-time watch because you'll be so taken in by it.

To make it even more interesting, The First Shadow actually fits into the canon of Stranger Things rather than being a completely separate story, and there are various moments that could set up season 5. While, of course, it shouldn't be and won't be essential to have seen an expensive West End show to appreciate season 5, it will add an extra layer of intrigue for fans.

But for now, Stranger Things: The First Shadow has proven to be a breath of fresh air on the West End and fans can rest easy knowing that, if anything, it's only strengthened an already world-dominating franchise.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is showing at The Phoenix Theatre in London. You can buy tickets at ATG Tickets. Stranger Things is available to stream on Netflix.

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