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Guys & Dolls theatre review

Stranger Things: The First Shadow Review | What we thought

The Duffer Brothers bring everything you love (and fear) about Hawkins, Indiana to Charing Cross Road.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow boldly transforms the beloved Netflix TV series into a riveting live spectacle at London's Phoenix Theatre.

This ambitious production brings Hawkins, 24 years before the show's events, to life with incredible care, faithful fan service and loving attention to detail. It masterfully intertwines everything you love about the source material with plenty of exhilarating twists to provide an experience that feels both familiar and thrillingly fresh.

Here are the five things we loved the most about Stranger Things: The First Shadow…

From screen to stage

From the moment you set foot inside the Phoenix Theatre, you'll feel like you've entered an episode of Stranger Things, complete with small-town American suburban vibes, chilling unease and supernatural thrills. The production's set and audio/visual effects are meticulously themed to immerse you immediately into the action on stage, and there are thematic nods and era-appropriate decor peppered throughout the entire venue. If you are a Stranger Things fan, we highly recommend you explore every corner of the Phoenix.

Promo image of boy on a table

Spectacular, terrifying effects

The special effects are a real spectacle, with scenes that brilliantly blur the lines between reality and the eerie dimensions of the Upside Down. The effects are so stunning that you might momentarily forget you're watching a live performance happen before your eyes. True to its roots, the show does not hold back on jump scares, delivering them with expert timing that, on more than one occasion saw me jumping out of my seat. The choice of audio played through a brilliantly engineered sound system, combined with the high-impact special effects, makes each moment feel thrillingly urgent.

It's not a musical… or is it?

The show is a wonderful blend of edge-of-seat thrills and light-hearted small-town American humour, just like the TV series.

We tried desperately to stay clear of spoilers that could be inferred from some of the promotional material but it's somewhat unavoidable once you're at the theatre. You'll come across one image in particular that suggests it might be a musical…. It's palpably not, but there is a song-and-dance number worthy of the West End's best stages that adds some joyful comic relief to the otherwise tense atmosphere.

Promo image of high school cast

Making the most of your extended stay in Hawkins

The First Shadow is a marathon, not a sprint. Combined, the two acts are about 3 hours long with an interval in the middle, making it feel like you've binged two back-to-back episodes of the show. But beautiful 1930s London theatres like the Phoenix were not built with comfort in mind, so we highly recommend you come prepared – think pre-ordered interval drinks, comfy clothes and perhaps some extra padding to prevent saddle soreness. There's enough action, emotion, and intrigue in the play to make the time investment wholly worthwhile – so you might as well do it in comfort.

Swap Hawkins for London

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Worth the trip? Absolutely

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is a testament to the magic of theatre, transforming a beloved series into a live experience that's both familiar and fresh. Prepare to be astonished. The show pushes boundaries beyond its storytelling, but also in how it engulfs you within its world.

The Phoenix Theatre is transformed into a portal to the Upside Down, where every stage manipulation, light, sound, and shadow is crafted to enhance the mystery and allure of the story. Whether you're a newcomer to Stranger Things, interested in finding out what all the fuss is about, or a seasoned fan, the show is an unmissable journey into one of television's most captivating worlds.

Don't miss your chance to experience it firsthand – this is a production that truly stands apart in London's theatre scene.