Peppa Pig World developing future theatregoers

In the arts, we understand the notion of immersive theatre very well. Companies like Punchdrunk (now resident in the borough of Greenwich at Woolwich Works) have brought hundreds of thousands of people to events which place the audience at the heart of an imaginative, interactive experience.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

Hailed as ‘the most extraordinary dramatic event you will find in any British theatre’ by the Sunday Telegraph, in 2007 the company opened its wildly successful adaptation of The Masque of the Red Death at Battersea Arts Centre, and that production alone played to over 40,000 people. Similarly, in the same year, Secret Cinema was founded, inviting audiences to leave the passive experience of the theatre auditorium behind and become active participants in the world of a film. Huge pop-culture classics like Bladerunner, Stranger Things, Back To The Future and Moulin Rouge have all been turned into accessible worlds by the Secret Cinema team, with everything from food and drink to live entertainment and set dressing seemingly placing visitors in that extended world.

In order to work out whether visitors to this type of event can be encouraged into (or back into) our venues, it is interesting to consider where these immersive concepts have come from – whether theatre has expanded out, film has developed sideways, or the events market has made a dramatic leap. The answer, I suspect, may lie somewhere between the three…

In Hampshire, on a 140 acre site on the edge of the New Forest, Paultons Park attracts over a million visitors a year, and at the heart of the park is Peppa Pig World. Taking the same approach as Secret Cinema, an artificial environment is entirely created using the aesthetic of the much loved cartoon, but added to that are regular opportunities to meet larger-than-life versions of the characters (think DisneyLand but based on a single series rather than the output of a mega production company) and to enjoy a range of Peppa-inspired rides.

We visited at the height of the spring season, a sunny weekend in the Easter holiday, and yet the theme-park-meets-cartoon-world never felt overly busy, with ride waiting times all manageable with young children (and special provision for those with access needs, meaning the park is surely one of the most accessible attractions of its kind). The park was spotless throughout the day. At times it can feel like you’re in The Truman Show, with everything artificial and lightning-fast cleaners keeping the pastel-coloured world as bright as its TV equivalent.

Rides like Windy Castle and the Helicopters or Hot Air Balloons offer children a sense of a visit to a theme park (with the opportunity to venture out into Paultons Park for more adventurous rides when children are ready), interspersed with boats and other smaller rides suitable for younger children. Visits to the school-house and to Peppa’s house offer photo opportunities and storytime, and little details like a pond with artificial ducks lifted straight from the original illustrations complete the feeling of being immersed in Peppa’s world.

If this kind of attraction can bring families out of their houses and away from their screens to attend live events, then it goes one step beyond the achievements of Secret Cinema and the like, as it demonstrates to children – our future audience – just how magical a live experience can be. We may just come to realise that the future of our industry relies in no small way on the power of Peppa Pig World and the like, to inspire young theatregoers from the next generation and beyond.

Picture: Sofia Ibrahim-Haddrell and Sophia Webb visiting Peppa Pig World

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