The Stranger Things play is ‘funny and thrilling’

Much will be made of the visual special effects and, yes, they are very impressive but what really makes this play work is exactly the same thing that makes any play work, be it a spectacular, big-budget West End extravaganza or a two-hander in a tiny studio theatre: it’s the characters and the actors’ portrayal of them.

There are no weak links in the 35-strong cast but it is worth singling out Isabella Pappas (Joyce), Oscar Lloyd (Hopper), Christopher Buckley (Bob), Louis McCartney (Henry), and Ella Karuna Williams (Patty). Thanks to their skill, we care about these people and we can recognise TV Joyce in stage Joyce, TV Hopper in stage Hopper and so on. This play might well have the same effect on the careers of some of these young performers as the TV show did on the careers of its stars.

There’s also some lovely new detail about the characters. I especially enjoyed Joyce as a political firebrand who carries a copy of the Communist Manifesto around with her – particularly brave in 1950s America – and believes in the power of theatre to effect change.

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.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is booking at the Phoenix Theatre, London, until 30 June 2024


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