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  • Henry Longstaff

Stranger Sings - Southwark Playhouse Borough

Succulent Satire in Hawkins, Indiana 

Stranger Sings at Southwark Playhouse


No musical parody has the right to be this good, especially when the franchise it is parodying has opened a tens of millions of pounds production up the road in the West End - making me question whether the trip to the Phoenix Theatre is worth the bother. Stranger Sings is that good.

Condensing the first season of the acclaimed Netflix series, Stranger Sings is a rollercoaster ride through recognisable scenes, familiar characters and a whole heap of satire. We witness our favourite Hawkins residents in a new light, as the timid Will Byers (now in puppet form) is abducted to the upside down whilst his school friends set out to save the day. His mom partners up with the reluctant Sheriff and Nancy quickly forgets about her supposed best friend Barb after she disappears too. Powered by a banging 80s synth-inspired soundtrack our heroes fight a dancing demogorgon, are chased by Russian scientists and Dustin teaches Steve Harrington the fundamentals of feminism. What more can you ask for?

Fans of the franchise will adore the hilarious hijinks the creative team has concocted as it beautifully builds on the existing characterisations that we have grown to love over the last seven years. Verity Power’s Joyce is highly strung and wide-eyed, forever clutching at a cigarette and trying to convince Howard Jenkins’s bemused but endearing Hopper that her son is alive in another dimension. Power is uncanny as Joyce/Winona Ryder who revels in the song ‘Crazy’ where she is haunted by Winona’s previous roles - cue dazzling musical number featuring Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and mallet wheeling Heather all led by Powers exquisite vocals.

It is not just Powers who excels in the singing department because, fair play to the casting team, every actor on that stage has serious pipes. Anna Amelia is a particular standout, covering the demanding roles of Nancy, Eleven and Robin whilst offering top-level, expressive performances that demonstrate a wicked depth of talent. She thrives in each role, nailing the mannerisms associated with each character and produces one of the cleanest vocal performances I have heard all year. Amelia is going to be one to watch over the next few years. Alfie Doohan too, with the help of some cracking wigs, has a strong turn as Steve, Jonathan and Dr Brenner, particularly funny when paired with Will Shackleton’s Dustin in the hilarious song ‘Nice,’ which captures their blossoming bromance perfectly. I could continue to gush over this wildly talented cast until season five eventually airs, but it is worth calling out Philippa Leadbetter’s excellent professional debut as Barb. She delves into the underused and frankly sidelined season one character, exposing her full-blown sass for the world to see. Finally, we have justice for Barb!

Justin Williams’s set is simply magnificent in capturing the weird world of Hawkins. Lifting elements from the Byers’s house, the lab and the school the setting is perfect for this madcap adventure. The recognisable Christmas lights drape the stage along with the thick black roots of the upside down. The expert costume work of Ellie Farrow ensures that there is never ambiguity in who an actor is portraying and Lucinda Lawrence’s choreography accentuates the cheesy 80s vibe - even down to the concluding dance battle. Oh yes, there is a dance battle.

Writer, composer and lyricist Jonathan Hogue has performed a miracle in creating the perfect pop culture parody. Drawing on the source material with utmost care and understanding it ploughs forward with complete silliness armed with a rib-tickling script and highly infectious soundtrack to deliver a hilarious evening all-round. The future star-studded cast is faultless in bringing the caricature characters to the stage, and right now I’m trying to work out if I can squeeze in a second visit before it continues on its massive tour next year - outstanding.

Running in Southwark until 6th January - Tickets

On Tour until May 2024 - Tickets

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