Ella Karuna Williams Talks … Stranger Things: The First Shadow

Popular Netflix series Stranger Things has been brought to life by a multi-award-winning creative team, who take theatrical storytelling and stagecraft to a whole new dimension …

Hawkins, 1959: a regular town with regular worries. Young Jim Hopper’s car won’t start, Bob Newby’s sister won’t take his radio show seriously and Joyce Maldonado just wants to graduate and get the hell out of town. When new student Henry Creel arrives, his family finds that a fresh start isn’t so easy… and the shadows of the past have a very long reach.

Marking her West End debut Ella Karuna Williams plays Patty Newby. Her television credits include The Equalizer and she has recently released her first EP, Silent Noise. We spoke to her about being part of the Stranger Things Universe …

Please introduce yourself …
My name is Ella Karuna Williams, and I’m an actor who is currently portraying Patty Newby in the West End Production of Stranger Things: The First Shadow. I’m 18 years old, and I’m from New Jersey back in the USA.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
A whirlwind.

What started you on this particular career path?
When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I made my “acting debut” in a production of Shrek the Musical Jr. at a local children’s theatre as Teen Fiona. The first time I stepped on that stage in front of an audience, I remember being hit with the most terrifying yet exhilarating feeling. My mom actually told me afterwards that she could see my eyes widen as I faced the audience for the first time. I wanted to experience that again, so I kept acting in community theatre/school productions and have ultimately gotten to act professionally as well. Stepping into other people’s shoes and living in make-believe worlds never stops being fun. It’s hard work, but it’s so worth it.

Tell us about your latest project – Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Stranger Things: The First Shadow is a stage show on the West End — expect to laugh, cry, and gape in astonishment at the mind-blowing effects that have been achieved on that stage, and the beautiful story at its heart. It’s a prequel to the Netflix series that takes place in 1959 and centres around the origin story of Henry Creel, aka Vecna, which my character, Patty Newby, plays a large role in. It also features other well-known and loved characters like Joyce, Bob, and Hopper. What’s really cool about the show is that it’s got the Stranger Things lore and vibes that fans of the show will love, but it’s also a standalone piece, so you don’t have to watch the Netflix show to understand it.

Ella Karuna Williams & Louis McCartney – Image Credit: James Leggat

Can you tell us about Patty and what her goals are?
Patty Newby is the adopted sister of Bob Newby, and she’s a freshman at Hawkins High. She doesn’t quite fit in with the other students and I think just longs for acceptance, which she tries to find through Henry Creel (who also struggles to fit in) and through learning more about her past. She’s incredibly imaginative and loves comic books — particularly Wonder Woman — which really allows her to bond with Henry. I think one of her main goals is to just escape her lot in life – discover more about herself and her roots and go beyond the small-town upbringing she’s had.

As you’ve mentioned, Stranger Things: The First Shadow is set 25 years before the Netflix series. What aspects of the characters might audiences recognise?
Louis, Isabella, Chris, Oscar, Patrick, and the rest of the company do an incredible job of portraying the younger versions of characters that Stranger Things fans know and love; they simultaneously honour the source material while bringing their own flavour to it all. So audiences can expect to find comfort in the familiarity of these characters while also discovering new depths to them. I hope they’ll also have fun discovering entirely new characters — like Patty. What I think Stranger Things does so well in terms of all its characters — new or old – is to revisit and explore the feelings associated with growing up and figuring out who you are, feeling different, and wanting more out of life than the lot you’ve been given.

Given the huge fanbase for Stranger Things, is there pressure to live up to the series?
Because I’m playing a new character, I don’t have the pressure that the others have of taking a beloved character and then making it their own, but I do feel the pressure of creating a new one from scratch. The Duffer Brothers have crafted such a rich and brilliant world, so it was really important to me that Patty felt like she “fit” within the Stranger Things universe. The only Patty that audiences see is the one in the play, so she has to be fully fleshed out and established and complex to (hopefully) captivate people. Luckily, our writer, Kate Trefry, and our directors, Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, gave me so much brilliant material to work with.

Ella Karuna Williams & Matthew Pidgeon – Image Credit: James Leggat

Before joining the cast, had you watched the series? If so, who are your favourite characters?
Of course. Series 1 came out when I was about 10 or 11, and it absolutely terrified me. I’m still a scaredy cat now, but luckily, I gave it another try when I was a bit older and fell in love with it. It’s just so good. And my favourite characters are Steve, Max, and Dustin — I particularly love the Steve-Dustin duo.


What are you watching right now? I finally started The Bear.

What are you reading right now? I love books, so this question is very exciting. I’m currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir, and I’m enjoying it so far. I usually gravitate towards literary fiction and fantasy books rather than sci-fi, but this one is helping to bring me out of my comfort zone while keeping me on the edge of my seat. Also, while we’re talking about books, I have to mention a favourite I’ve read this year. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a beautiful story that explores the complex experience of Koreans in both Japan and Japan-occupied Korea, familial relationships, and resilience through four generations of one family. It’s an absolute must read.

What are you listening to? I’m listening to a lot of Lizzy McAlpine, who is also a big inspiration for writing my own music. My favourites of hers are Pancakes for Dinner, Reckless Driving, and All My Ghosts. Pancakes for Dinner is one I particularly like to play on the guitar and sing along to.

Last thing you saw on stage? I saw The Unfriend by Steven Moffat at the Wyndham’s Theatre. I have a few friends in it — the cast was brilliant, as was the show. It was just really fun to watch a silly family comedy, especially given that I get to “live” in the very scary Upside Down six days a week.

Whose footsteps are you following in? Hmm, this is a hard one. I guess I would like to follow in the footsteps of all the actors that have made me want to be an actor. There are so many, but to name a few – Jennifer Lawrence, Samuel L. Jackson, Emma Stone, and Zendaya.

What’s next? I’m taking it one day at a time at the moment, but I’d love to branch into some film and TV next. A limited series or a period piece would be so much fun, but the sky’s the limit, really. It’s also a dream of mine to work with Greta Gerwig.

What’s your socials? I’m on instagram: @ellakarunawilliams

Stranger Things: The First Shadow runs at the Phoenix Theatre in London until December 15th 2024. Find out more here.


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