Written by: Kip Chapman
Directed by: Kip Chapman
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 5th Feb 2022
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
Conceived and created by HACKMAN (Kip Chapman and Brad Knewstubb), Destination Mars is an interactive experience perfect for young people and their whānau. Suitable for those aged six up, this Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts show puts the audience in the driver’s seat of a space mission on Mars in the year 2034. As the engineers in the control room, we’re responsible for maintaining the base’s support system, powering up the next rocket launch… and saving the day when it all goes wrong.
The technology is a high point of Destination Mars. Each audience member is in charge of their own touch tablet, where space lingo and highly detailed systems information flash across the screen. Games of Space Tennis and Cosmo Run hide out in the entertainment tab – a great touch from the digital design team led by Pedro Klein.
Deftly guiding our session, charismatic performers Isadora Lao and Arlo Gibson ad-lib with each other and interact beautifully with the audience, assigning tasks to many of us by name. Young faces light up when they are called upon, with a six-year-old Evan getting a round of applause as surely the youngest engineer to ever work on Mars. You go, Evan!
It’s clear the kids absolutely love this unique experience. For the grownups, there’s the slick tech and overall design (directed by Knewstubb) to appreciate, heightened by Sophie Sargent’s costume design that transforms the performers into true space explorers. I do want for more of a human element to latch onto, as I don’t know a whole lot about who or what I’m trying to save when the rocket hits the fan.
I have the young audience member sitting next to me to thank for my favourite moment of Destination Mars. Through blaring alarms, flashing alerts, and a bellowed countdown, us engineers manage to work together to avert total destruction. In the calm after the chaos, Master 10 looks across to his family and whispers, “Can we all agree that was actually quite stressful?”