Interview: 'It's Like Romeo and Juliet': Actor Alex Young on Fan Interactions and Staying Cool in Auditions for STRANGER THINGS: THE FIRST SHADOW

'I think what's beautiful about this is that it's going to be a lot of people's first experience of theatre. '

By: May. 03, 2024
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Interview: 'It's Like Romeo and Juliet': Actor Alex Young on Fan Interactions and Staying Cool in Auditions for STRANGER THINGS: THE FIRST SHADOW
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Stranger Things: The First Shadow, continues the Stranger Things television series universe by telling audiences the story of what Hawkins was like in 1959, “before the world turned upside down.” We are introduced to a regular town, but things soon take a turn for the “strange” with the arrival of Henry Creel and his family. 

Recently, we had the chance to chat with Alex Young, who plays Virginia Creel, Henry Creel’s mother, in Stranger Things: The First Shadow. We discussed what it has been like being part of the stage version of a beloved television series, how it feels to be taking on a role seen on the screen and some of her favourite characters and scenes from the show!

How did you first get into the world of theatre?

I had a very, very happy and lucky childhood. My mum loved theatre, and so we went a lot. When I was a kid, I went to a school that did a lot of dancing, singing, drama and all that. So I felt like it was always part of my life. I don't remember having the eureka moment of, “This is what I want to do!” I think I just always felt like that because I was a giant little nerd! [Laughs]

I remember loving going to the theatre, the lights going down, and just thinking that was the most exciting thing. I used to love sitting on the side of the auditorium to look into the wings - that was always my favourite thing. I was intrigued by the life of actors and people on stage. I would never go to stagedoor because I was too embarrassed, but I just loved the idea of them coming off stage, getting changed and going home. I don't know why, I just always found that absolutely fascinating! I tried for a long time to not do it because I thought it was a silly idea, but I don't think there was ever really any hope that I wouldn't muscle my way in there somehow! [Laughs]

And what made you want to be a part of Stranger Things: The First Shadow?

Well, I love the Stranger Things series! I tried to keep it pretty cool in my meeting with the director, but I'm a huge Stranger Things fan. So the idea of literally getting to be in a Stranger Things episode live on stage was basically Christmas morning to me! My first few weeks in the show, in the company, I was so giddy hearing all the sound effects from the series and the opening credit music! When I watched it, I was like, “This is amazing!”.

It's a great piece. Spectacular, clever, bold, technically extraordinary piece. But I think the story is really beautiful. When I read the script, I thought, “This is so naughty and juicy and chewy!” The fact that it focuses a lot on parenting, good parenting and bad parenting, and the fear of suspecting that your child might be a monster. Because once you've had that thought you could never unthink it. And I found that, being a mum, - to a very delightful child, I should say! [Laughs] - really fascinating. How do you unthink that thought? On a human level, it's really beautiful. And then on a technical level, it's outrageous! I love that I know how things are done now. I get really smug about it! I love it.

What is it like playing a character that was portrayed in the show, even if only for a brief amount of time?

Lovely, because you don't know very much about her at all. You know what happens to her, and so then the piece is really exciting. But for me as a fan, and for me as an actor, it's the how rather than the what. How things happen rather than what happens. I'm about to compare Stranger Things to Shakespeare but it's like like Romeo and Juliet - you know from the start what's going to happen, so you're not really focusing on that. You're focusing on, “How is this going to happen?” Which is really fascinating. Luckily for me, because the character is not hugely fleshed out in the series, I didn't feel any kind of pressure or temptation to copy. I could just follow what was on the page, follow the text, and just let that be my guide. So that was very lucky.

And did you rewatch the show before the series before joining the show as research?

Of course I did! [Laughs] I was like, [sarcastically] “Oh no, I gotta watch the whole thing again?” 

[Laughs] Oh no, what a shame!

I was very happy to watch it again. And it was very amusing because when Vecna, the main villain of the piece, the monster version of my son, Henry Creel, when he first came on to screen I remember thinking, “Aww, hey, baby! I’m really proud of you! My baby!” [Laughs]

Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Louis McCartney (Henry Creel)

Have you had interactions with fans of this series talking to you about the show? 

Yeah! The show has got a huge fan base, as you'd imagine because the series has got a big fan base. So obviously, there's characters that we know, it's the young versions of our favourite characters, Joyce and Hopper and Bob. But the new characters, they've been fully embraced by the Stranger Things fans, who are the sweetest! And I think the fans follow the show because the show is so charming and witty and absolutely inclusive and open. The fans were always going to be beautiful people because of what the show does. So it's been lovely! It's lovely to see them in the audience, a lot of them wearing their Hellfire t-shirts, that's been super fun. And then we've had people from the cast of the telly series coming to see it as well, which has been lovely! My first show, Joe Keery, who plays Steve, was in the audience!


And Steve might be one of my favourite characters. But he was wearing a hat over his hair, and I was like, “What's the point?” [Laughs] 

[Laughs] Take it off!

Take the hat off, let “The Hair” free!

That actually leads to my next question! Do you have any favourite characters or scenes from the television series?

Whenever they go “Scooby Doo-ing” is always my favourite! When they're getting ready for the fight. It's normally the penultimate episode of each season when they're hammering wood onto windows and getting all the weapons ready. I always love those moments. But my favourite characters . . . Obviously Steve because [imitates heart beating] Ba-bum, ba-bum!


But Joe Quinn . . . This is not a very interesting answer, but Eddie was unbelievably beautiful. To come in, enter into a series and just absolutely own it! I don’t know Joe. We were at the National at the same time - that's as close as I've got to him! I just feel proud of him being a total Brit and absolutely nailing that part in that universe. I was so thrilled! So he was amazing. But the absolute queen that is Erica . . . And Kemi, who plays Erica's mom in our show, Sue [Anderson], she's a teenager. She's at school at the time. But what's so beautiful about what Kemi’s done and what the writers have done is bring a bit of Erica's queen energy into Sue which is just divine! She's an absolute legend, Erica.; She's probably my favourite!

Stranger Things: The First Shadow

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

I think what's beautiful about this is that it's going to be a lot of people's first experience of theatre. Theatre can sometimes feel scary or elitist, or not for certain people, and I think this show is bringing in people that don't normally go. I always think that's a real privilege, to be performing for people when it's their first experience. People feel like they're in a live TV episode, which is so thrilling because they'll get all the bells and whistles of what people can do on TV, special effects and all that, but it's live, so there's always that risk.

There's that special electricity in the room when you're all in the same room together, audiences and creatives alike. I think it's just thoroughly enjoyable. It's a little bit scary, but it's totally charming. Exactly like the series - I think it's got the tone bang on! And the performances are just . . . When I saw it, I just couldn't believe it. Everybody's amazing, but the younger actors are so astonishing, so committed, so passionate. It's a real joy to watch them and be with them on stage. I love all of them very much.

It's incredible how, for a lot of them, it's their West End debut!

I know! Similarly to how I feel when I'm performing a show where people may be coming to the theatre for the first time, I always feel such a privilege when people are making their debuts if I'm working with them at the time. It's such a special moment and I just always feel so lucky to witness it. Especially because all these kids are going to be mega stars - they're fantastic!

Do you have a favourite line?

One of my absolute favourites . . . And it's so silly! It's just for me [Laughs]. Florence Guy, who plays Karen, Mike Wheeler’s mum, at one point she gets really overexcited and she just has to shout “Joyce!” to get Joyce's attention, but she just goes [imitates screaming] “JOYCE!” And it's the most delightful moment in the whole show! Flo Guy is delicious in the show.

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


Stranger Things: The First Shadows is currently running at The Phoenix Theatre.

Production Photo Credits: Manuel Harlan


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