Interview: 'It's Breaking Boundaries': Michael Jibson of STRANGER THINGS: THE FIRST SHADOW on Bringing the Iconic Show to the Stage

'This isn't an adaptation. This is the sidecar to the motorbike that's tearing through the world of pop culture'

By: Nov. 28, 2023
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Interview: 'It's Breaking Boundaries': Michael Jibson of STRANGER THINGS: THE FIRST SHADOW on Bringing the Iconic Show to the Stage

Stranger Things: The First Shadow, the eagerly-awaited stage adaptation of the hit Netflix series, is set to open on 16 December at The Phoenix Theatre. The show is set in Hawkins, Indiana in 1959, following characters like Jim Hopper, Bob Newby and Joyce Maldonado “before the world turned upside down.” 

BroadwayWorld sat down with Michael Jibson, who is taking on the role of Victor Creel, the father of Henry Creel. We discussed how he first got into the world of acting, why he is so excited to be a part of Stranger Things: The First Shadow, and what it is like to be part of the adaptation of such a popular Netflix show. 

Note: This interview contains spoilers for Season Four of Stranger Things.

How did you first get into the world of acting?

My mum was involved in amateur dramatics up in Hull. When I was about 13, they were doing a production of Oliver! at the Hull New Theatre and my mum asked me and my brother if we wanted to be involved. 

Me and my brother were both extroverts - we liked singing and dancing to Michael Jackson and things like that. And then we said, “Yeah, okay, let's do it.” And long story short, we both got the lead roles. He played Oliver and I played Dodger, and I was bitten by the bug, as they say, and very quickly realised that I was surrounded by other kids who were very similar-minded. There were also lots of girls around - I found myself with a girlfriend very quickly, which was quite exciting! I just loved it. 

That year, Cameron Mackintosh was reviving Oliver! at the Palladium, directed by Sam Mendes, Jonathan Pryce as Fagin. There was a call out for auditions for kids, because they need more kids. So my mum's friend came round with this article, and was like, “You're going! You’re taking the boys down for it.” And we were from a pretty working class background. My mum worked at Sainsbury's, and we didn't get on trains and go to London and things like that. Anyway, my mum's friend drove us down to the Hackney Empire and we actually met Lionel Bart, he was at the auditions - and me and my brother got cast in Oliver! at the Palladium.

And then I joined the National Youth Music Theatre, because other kids that were in Oliver! with me told me what else there was to do. Then I went off to drama school and I'm an actor, so that's how I got into it. And here I am, doing a bit of everything these days from musical theatre to straight plays. I predominately do TV and film these days, and then occasionally pop back in.

What is it like performing on screen versus on stage?

It's two very different experiences. I don't want to use the word disciplines, because you're kind of doing the same thing, it's just a different experience. Theatre is what I'm experiencing now. I'm sitting in the dressing room and I'm building up to rehearsal and then the performance and you do the same thing every night. You have to reinvent it and find a new way of doing it every night.

Whereas screen is less singular. You can get a bit more nuanced and block everything else out and find the detail within. You can do that on stage as well, but there's an element of having to pace yourself, whereas TV and film, you just gotta throw yourself into it. Once it's done, it's done. You never think about it again, unless there’s a problem and you need to reshoot it.

Theatre becomes a routine - you come into work, you have your life outside the theatre, and then you finish the run and it's done. With TV and film it could be anything from you’re filming down the road from your house to you have to fly to the other side of the world and leave your family for six months. That can be weird and quite lonely, actually, whereas theatre is such a community, even something on this scale. But I miss them both when I'm doing both of them. I really miss doing screen when I'm not doing the screen and I really miss theatre when I'm not in theatre. And at the moment I'm doing a play, so I really want to do a musical! [Laughs].

Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Christopher Buckley, Michael Jibson, Imogen Turner, Louis McCartney, and Lauren Ward
in rehearsal
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

What is it like being part of an adaptation of such an iconic screen series like Stranger Things?

Well that's where the crossover is, isn't it? It’s one of my favourite TV shows. It's such a nostalgic, character-driven fantasy, and I get to be a part of that world. That's what I'm most proud about really, in my career, is that I get to do so many different things.

It's all pretend, what we do. We're all just pretending. All this method acting nonsense is okay, to a certain extent. I try and throw myself into it, but I'm pretending. I get to pretend I'm in Stranger Things every night and get to bring a character to life. That's really exciting, to do Stranger Things on stage. 

And this is breaking the boundary of theatre, TV and film. What’s never been done before is that a TV show that is on at the moment is telling the story that we're all waiting [to conclude] - I'm still waiting to find out what happens in season five, even though I'm in it!

This isn't an adaptation. This is the sidecar to the motorbike that's tearing through the world of pop culture. We're providing the fans of Stranger Things with tons of Easter Eggs and also welcoming them into the world of theatre. It's probably right to say that some of them haven't ever thought of going to the theatre. If this doesn't do that, then it's failing. And that's what theatre is - blowing people's minds, just having a singular experience. The difference between TV and film is that you can't pause it and go get a drink. You've got to sit and listen and watch and experience it. It's going to be an experience for everybody. You're going to be in the middle of Stranger Things.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Louis McCartney as Henry Creel in Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Without going into too many spoilers, can you tell us a bit about the show?

It's a prequel. You're exploring a part of the TV show that you have seen in flashbacks, in the 50s in Hawkins. It's the origin story of Henry Creel, who becomes Number One, who becomes Vecna, of him as a young boy in Hawkins. There's something not right with him and his family are aware of this. You see a lot of this in the flashback sequences - there's a big sequence where you see the nightmares that the Creel family are experiencing. So you're expanding on that and you're meeting the other characters that were also in Hawkins, just younger. Some of them you know really well from the TV show as older people, and some of them you know as supporting roles. It's “Stranger Things: The Beginnings,” really. 

Tell us a bit about your character?

So my character, Victor Creel, is the father of Henry Creel. He’s married to Virginia Creel and is just trying to do what's right for his family, and has recently moved to Hawkins. He is suffering from PTSD from World War Two and is just trying to be a good dad and a good husband. That's all I'm gonna say for now!

How did you prepare for the role? Did you rewatch Stranger Things?

Yeah. I mean, there's certain elements of the show that we have to try and get exactly right, because you can't change things. I've rewatched the four seasons again just to enjoy it and also to realise how much I had forgotten, the detail and the different journeys that all the characters go on to tie it back to where we're at.

Do you have a favourite character in the play or within the television show itself?

No, not really. I like all the characters, really! It's just really good fun, isn't it? What's always interesting about stories like this is when they're all normal people that something extraordinary has happened to. What would we all do if something extraordinary happened to us? And I think that's what's brilliant about this writing -  you care about these characters, because they're just normal people in a very normal snapshot of America at that time. And what we're getting is a snapshot of a different time in that same community. 

Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Ross and Matt Duffer in rehearsal
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

What do you hope audiences take away from Stranger Things: The First Shadow?

That they had their Stranger Things itch scratched, that they get to experience Stranger Things in a way that they don't by watching the TV show! That they fill in some of the gaps that they might have had questions about for the TV show, that they get to experience something really off the scale in terms of production at the same time as experiencing an incredibly well-crafted, character-driven play that's been directed and created by arguably one of the greatest creative teams ever assembled.

People from Netflix like Kate Trefry, who's written the TV show with the Duffer Brothers - they call her their secret weapon. She came on to Season Two and she brought the show to life for them when it took off. Obviously Stephen Daldry, who is arguably one of our greatest and most experienced theatrical and TV and film directors that we have. I just feel like that's what the audiences are gonna get to experience. I hope they like it! [Laughs] I hope they think it’s good.

And finally, how would you describe Stranger Things: The First Shadow in one word?

Massively intimate. 

Stranger Things: The First Shadow opens at The Phoenix Theatre on 16 December.

Main Photo Credit: Craig Sugden