Disclaimer: I have never watched a single episode of Stranger Things. I have, of course, heard all about it (I haven’t been living under a rock for the last few years). I know it’s made a star of Millie Bobby Brown, that it has won numerous awards, and got Kate Bush to number one nearly 40 years after the initial release of ‘sublime Running up that hill’, but I’ve never watched it. So I approached the musical parody of the show, ‘Stranger Sings‘ , that is currently showing at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, with a bit of trepidation. Would it work if you hadn’t watched the source material? And would I actually enjoy it. The answers, I am happy to report, were an emphatic ‘YES’ and ‘Yes’. Stranger Sings is an absolute joy, an hilarious, loving pastiche of all things 1980’s. It is an absolute hoot.
For Luddites like me, who haven’t seen the show, imagine a cool, funny mixture of all those 1980’s horror and sci fi movies, mixed with enough pop culture references to have anyone who remembers that decade nodding and smiling in a sheer wallow in nostalgia. The action is set in Hawkins, the kind of small town America where nothing ever happens. We are told this early through a radio news broadcast (delivered by the fabulous Phillipa Leadbetter, one of the stand out performers, so hilarious as her voice got louder as the sound was turned up). But Hawkins is in for a shock when tiny resident Will (a puppet, as we are regularly reminded in very funny terms) goes missing. His neurotic, protective, chain smoking mother Joyce (played with verve by Verity Power, channelling her best Winona Ryder) enlists the help of the town’s police chief Hopper (played with brilliant tongue in cheek by Howard Jenkins) to help find Will, whilst Will’s friends also set out on a search, meeting a strange psychokinetic girl named Eleven (Anna Amelia – very good!) on the way. Could Will’s disappearance, and that of local girl Barb. be linked to that strange Hawkins National Laboratory that is very close nearby?
The beauty of Stranger Sings is that it is really affectionate to its source material, and to the decade it comes from. The cultural references to the 80’s come thick and fast, from the ‘Chunk Shuffle’ to ‘ET’, to Madonna and the disaster that was ‘new coke’. The songs sound like they should be on the soundtrack to a 1980’s movie, with dance routines that are also delivered straight from the 1980’s. Stranger Sings works as a loving pastiche/tribute to the 1980’s , as well as a very tongue in cheek send up of a popular TV series. Just look at the hilarious routine delivered by Verity Power, as Winona Ryder playing Joyce, complete with back up from Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Mother March and one of the girls from Heathers. It is absolutely joyous, funny and self deprecating, and delivered in brilliant fashion.
Stranger Sings is just what was needed on a cold, January night.