Pip’s Island – A bedazzling theatre experience! Review by Jo Mispel

The two musketeers and I headed off last week to experience the much lauded interactive theater show ‘Pip’s Island’, currently showing at Times Square. Previously a sold out ‘pop up’ show in Chelsea in 2016, this is the show’s second well-deserved run, and considering the incredible artistry and unique storytelling, and how fresh the experience was, I trust it won’t be the last.

This will become a new way of doing kids theater. Think escape room for adults or some such. Experience and embodiment being the key words. There is nothing passive about this theater. The audience becomes the show, in a multi-sensorial, participatory way, like diving into an alternative universe. Better than any video game or movie theater escapism.  Plus the kids come out with a real sense of collective and individual accomplishment.

Without giving too much away, because surprise and suspense work so beautifully in the experience, the premise of the story is that a call for help has been received from Pip’s island, a magical far away land. An evil character named Joules Volter has started to steal the island’s unique energy. The children will need to journey to Pip’s island to restore it’s power and capture the thief, using a wide range of skills along the way.

My companions were two 8 years, going on 18 years old, boys. Tough, ‘cool’ kids who can be hard to please all of a sudden. I am sure others can relate. They however instantly engaged the initial actor whose role was to gather and escort the ‘adventurers’ via elevator to the custom made set upstairs. They were sufficiently intrigued by the glowing gadget on his wrist, a smart looking piece of equipment that all the participants would receive to help them in their mission. He skillfully and cheerfully accommodated their enthusiasm and curiosity.

The motley group of children and adults (who forthwith became known as assistants) were then ferried up to a higher floor. As soon as those elevator doors opened, we were immediately transported to a magical time travelling space whose gorgeous set was just a taste of what was to come. We were greeted by a charismatically engaging expedition leader who, with her sidekick, helped get all the young ones into their individual safari type vests and decked them out with their glowing high tech wrist gadgets. We then practiced some collective moves we might need to make on our journey, such as 3 paces back, get down low, all the while building up a fever of anticipation. We were soon joined by her boss, an otherworldly animation beaming in from above, with instructions for our mission. The island of Pip was being threatened by an evil force, and we were going to have to save it! We would need to find Pip and his friends and help them in myriad ways. A compass then magically appeared on the floor to guide us towards the first hidden entrance into this mysterious world. The use of well-mixed time pieces, architecturally ambitious sets, animation and sound was beautifully done, and the incredible world making only got more and more impressive as we moved through the adventure. The adults with me were as wide-eyed as the children.

The kids had to search for objects, help motor a flying ship, bake cakes, learn activating moves, break codes, dance and sing, just for example. Characters real, animatronic and puppet, engaged with us along the way. One child was entrusted with a guide book, a sufficiently magic potions, interactive type tome that would also help us master each new space and gather up ‘Sparks’.  The Sparks were badges we all needed to collect along the way, each one registered by the colourful wrist gadgets. Each challenge cleverly engaged different STEAM elements, whether math, art or science. Not that the kids would so dryly recognize the activities as such. Each ‘test’ was seamlessly knitted into the storyline so that the kids’ accomplishments helped the main characters move from one room to the next (sometimes the transition being just as exciting as the new space).

I have to say I was blown away by the sets, there were no details spared, no corners untouched. Also the actors were not only skilled actors but obviously highly experienced or trained to work with kids. As you can imagine, there is a wide range of ages and confidence in a show aimed at 4 to 10 year olds. The actors kept the story and action flowing seamlessly. Adults were also cared for with options to sit built discreetly into each set. The kids were in constant motion, but the adults could take it a little easier and sit back in awe. It was also a real joy just watching the children so enthralled.

My son and his best buddy were at times a little too cool to completely allow themselves to be transported, though I think this attitude was hard to maintain when the experience was so encompassing and convincing. My child especially is somehow allergic to fantasy at the moment. But interestingly, when I asked how they thought the show could be ‘cooler’ for them, the only request was to have a session where it was just older kids and that could be maybe be a little scarier, and I suspect they would have enjoyed something more combative. The fact that they discussed enthusiastically, post show, how they would tweak it for their tastes, proved to me how unique and groundbreaking the format was and how excited they were by the concept. I am sure most 8 to 10 year olds would be completely spellbound and the younger kids most certainly were.

If you are looking for an escape from the usual summer activities or want to experience a joyful way to get lost in the middle of Times Square, I cannot recommend a more interesting or impressive portal! Children can also further explore Pip’s island and it’s characters through some of the high quality books and merchandise available.

Pip’s Island runs daily Wednesday through Monday and is closed on Tuesdays at 400 West 42nd Street at Ninth Avenue. The show lasts approximately 60 minutes, and it’s recommended to arrive 15 minutes in advance of the ticketed time. Tickets, starting at $39, are on sale at www.PipsIsland.com or by calling ShowTix at 888.718.4253. For groups of 15 or more, email info@pipisland.com.



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