Thrilling Theatrical Special Effects

“Doesn’t eat…doesn’t sleep “

Henry’s medical history

“You can’t fix me.”

Henry to Dr Brenner

Louis McCartney as Henry Creel (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

“Hawkins, Indiana 1959: a regular town with regular worries. Young Jim Hopper (Oscar Lloyd)’s car won’t start, Bob Newby (Christopher Buckley)’s sister (Patty Newby played by Ella Karena Williams) won’t take his radio show seriously and Joyce Maldonado (Isabella Pappas) just wants to graduate and get the hell out of town. When new student Henry Creel (Louis McCartney) arrives, his family finds that a fresh start isn’t so easy… and the shadows of the past have a very long reach.” 

Stranger Things – The First Shadow is a play for theatre drawing on the Netflix series Stranger Things which first aired in 2016.  Playwright Jack Thorne and Kate Trefry have written what is a prequel for the Duffer Brothers’ story of 1980s teenagers in rural Indiana who are fighting monsters from a world called “Upside Down”.  

Louis McCartney as Henry Creel (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Set in 1950s Indiana, the Creel family have moved from where there was an incident which involved their son Henry, to get away from his notoriety, to small town Hawkins.  The opening historical scenes on board the USS Eldridge in 1943 where Henry’s father Victor Newby (Michael Jibson) was a naval officer are just the most explosive, spectacular and jaw dropping illusions ever seen on the London stage.

It is no wonder that the audience for this production are teenagers, hooked on the Netflix series, who are now enthusing about theatre and encouraging their parents to buy tickets for this “must see” event at the Phoenix Theatre.    

Louis McCartney as Henry Creel (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Henry discovers the dilapidated attic in their Hawkins house, adopts it as his room and Miriam Buether’s atmospheric set has it lit with a multitude of candles and with gaps in the rafters allowing sky views.  The whole auditorium has been decorated in keeping with Stranger Things and the revolve creates a fluidity between scenes.

We first meet Henry being introduced to his new school as a typical, nervous and withdrawn newbie.  Walter Henderson (Calum Ross) is his guide and we meet the usual high school stereotypes, the jocks, the cheerleaders and Joyce Maldonado who runs the drama club.  Unusually when Henry has his ID photo taken, the camera seems to blow up. 

Ella Karena Williams as Patty Newby, Louis McCartney as Henry Creel and Matthew Pidgeon as Principal Newby. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

There are issues in Hawkins when pets are found murdered and rumour and speculation fuel suspicion.  Chief Hopper (Shane Attwooll) is in charge of the investigation.  Patrick Vaill, whom we remember as a charismatic Jud Fry in Oklahoma, plays Dr Brenner who examines and monitors Henry’s condition.  Henry’s mother Virginia Creel (Alex Young) entrusts him to the care of Dr Brenner. Dr Brenner has a key role in the final scene when One meets Eleven. 

The performances are well honed and special mention has to be made of Louis McCartney’s vulnerable Henry as his psychopathic tendencies start to take over with a deep, penetrating voice and his amazing physical performance when he flies across the stage and runs round the auditorium shouting and screaming.  There is DJ Walde’s music too recalling the Twilight Zone of 1950s television.

Ella Karena Williams as Patty Newby, Patrick Vaill as Dr Brenner and Louis McCartney as Henry Creel. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Those familiar with the four series of Stranger Things on Netflix will pick up the starting stories for many of the characters they recognise.  The rest of us will appreciate The First Shadow for its stand-alone story but what you will come away with are the remarkable and exciting illusions.  From Jamie Harrison and Chris Fisher there are visual illusions and effects; from 59 Productions video design and more visual effects. There are sinister white suited scientists with lit up helmets, shining torches, carrying Geiger counters, mingling with the audience; the shadowy reflections behind those with embryonic special gifts, the hazy, billowing coloured smoke effects and lightning and electricity with stunning lighting from Jon Clark.

It is the stupendous state of the art thrilling, special effects which make this stage play the inspiration, as to what can be achieved by director Stephen Daldry, for a younger generation of theatre goers.

Former cast member Lauren Ward as Virginia Creel. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Production Notes

Stranger Things

The First Shadow

Original Story The Duffer Brothers

Written  by The Duffer Brothers, Jack Thorne and Kate Trefry 

Directed by Stephen Daldry and Co-Director Justin Martin



Louis McCartney

Ella Karuna Williams

Isabella Pappas

Calum Ross

Alex Young

Matthew Pidgeon

Michael Jibson

Patrick Vaill

Shane Attwooll

Max Harwood

Oscar Lloyd

Christopher Buckley


Ammar Duffus

Chase Brown

Samuel Baxter

Isaac Gryn

Tom Peters

Tricia Adele-Turner

Mark Hammersley

Danny Sykes

Lauren Arney

Kemi Awoderu

Reya-Nyomi Brown

Patricia Castro

Lydia Fraser

Florence Guy

Benjamin Lafayette

Maisie Norma Seaton

Kingdom Sibanda

Tiana Simone

Meesha Turner


Directors:  Stephen Daldry

and Justin Martin

Set Designer: Miriam Buether

Costume Designer: Brigitte Reiffenstuel

Lighting Designer: Jon Clark

Sound Designer:  Paul Arditti

Composer, Orchestrator

and Musical Supervisor: 

DJ Walde

Choreographer: Coral Messam

Movement: Lynne Page

Orchestrator: Paul Englishby

Fight director: Kev McCurdy
Intimacy director: Brónagh McAuley
Visual Illusions and Effects:  
Jamie Harrison and Chris Fisher
Video Design and Projection Design: 59 Productions
Producers: Sonia Frieman
and Netflix


Running Time: Three hours including an interval 

Booking to 16th February 2025


Phoenix Theatre

Charing Cross Road

London WC2H 0JP

Box Office: 0333 009 6690


Tube: Tottenham Court Road

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Phoenix Theatre on 6th  June 2024

Louis McCartney as Henry Creel and Patrick Vaill as Dr Brenner. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)