Stranger Things prequel play breaks new ground for Duffer brothers
The creators of Stranger Things have said their upcoming stage show, based on their hit supernatural Netflix series, is a possibility they “never expected”.
Matt and Ross Duffer said the concept had not been “not part of the original plans” when they first wrote it for television eight years ago.
The duo told the BBC there were more spin-off ideas in the works, but said taking the series to the stage is “completely new ground”.
Presented by Netflix and Sonia Friedman Productions, the new play, called Stranger Things: The First Shadow, will premiere in London’s West End in 14 December 2023.
The spin-off prequel will take place in the same universe as the much-loved TV series.
Ross Duffer spoke of his surprise at the TV show’s success.
“When we made that first season, we were just shocked we were allowed to make a show, so to see what it has become, and now the world is starting to expand, is pretty great. But this is something we never expected,” he said.
Stranger Things debuted on Netflix in 2016. Nine years and 12 Emmy Awards later, the show is still garnering record-breaking viewing figures.
The fourth season was released in 2022 and currently tops the Netflix most popular English TV list, with over 1.35 billion viewing hour. It also became the biggest premiere weekend ever for an English-language TV show on the streaming service.
The new play is written by Stranger Things writer Kate Trefry and directed by three-time Tony Award-winning director Stephen Daldry.
Daldry was also Oscar-nominated for The Reader, The Hours and Billy Elliot and is executive producer on the TV series The Crown.
Asked how the idea for a theatre production came about, Matt Duffer explained: “The idea did not come from us. I don’t think I would have had the idea. The idea came from Stephen Daldry.”
“Daldry was a big fan of the show and wanted to do a play, but he was so busy with The Crown that I thought this would never happen. Finally a window opened up, he came back and expressed his interest again, and we met up with him and started to talk about what the play could be.”
He added that Daldry had firm ideas about what he had in mind.
“I think when I first heard play, you immediately think it’s going to be a musical of season one or something like that. He was not interested in that kind of thing at all. He wanted to tell a new and original story,” he said.
The plot will see the audience transported back to the town of Hawkins, where Stranger Things is set, in the 1950s and will feature storylines for already-known characters including Jim Hopper, Joyce Maldonado and Bob Newby as high schoolers, as well as the show’s current villain Henry Creel.
Matt Duffer said it would be “a lot of fun” to meet younger versions of the show’s current characters, adding that “in the show, you can meet them as high schoolers – basically the same age as the kids are in our show.
“So yes, we have the darkness and the horror that comes along with the Henry Creel story, but then we have sort of the fun and pop that comes from meeting and getting to know young Joyce, young Hopper, young Bob.”
Ross Duffer said the stage show will feel very much like another series of Stranger Things, saying “we’ve got multiple storylines and strands going on throughout, and they all build to a pretty epic climax”.
“So we’re excited that it is a play in itself, but it’s also using some of the storytelling style that is so much a part of the show”.
The brothers, along with Kate Trefry, are now considered seasoned writers of complicated plots.
When asked how difficult it can be to not muddy the narrative and characters story arcs when writing a prequel to a successful TV show, Ross Duffer said: “As we’re writing the final season, we weren’t able to make sure everything is lining up.
“When this started, we were just doing four seasons, but we have now moved into five – and some things have changed.”
He said season four was “so much about the backstory, and about Henry Creel, and that that was sort of the launching point for what the show would become”.
He said they “touched on it” in the fourth season of the show, but thought there was “a lot of room to explore the origin of evil and in Hawkins – and we started to get really excited”.
They were able to adjust some of the “things in the play” and said that working on it had given them ideas for the upcoming season five.
“We’re trying to be very, very careful to make sure that it all fits in locks into place,” he said.
Matt Duffer added “Some of the mythology stuff is a little bit trickier, but like Ross said, it’s been fun to have the play influence the show, and the show influenced the play,” but added he hopes it feels like a “unique theatrical experience.”
Asked if the stage show will be remade for a worldwide TV audience if successful, Matt Duffer said “it really is designed for the theatre and the stage”.
Ross Duffer said “I don’t see us producing it for television, but we’re trying to treat everything in this play as a standalone story. That’s how we try to approach it as opposed to just ‘Oh, well, we need to do other shows, or seasons’. We think no, what is exciting about this and does it work on its own?
Matt Duffer added “It does very much feel like Stranger Things, but it is so driven by Steven, Kate and Sonia it is very much its own thing kind of set in the world of Stranger Things.
“I just I have to pinch myself when I think Stephen Daldry is doing a play based on an idea that we had. It’s truly mind-blowing. The fact that it is actually happening now and it’s happening soon is surreal.”
Despite being in the middle of shooting Stranger Things season 5 come opening night, the brother said they were “not missing this play for anything” and would be travelling to London.
Previews of the show will begin on 17 November.