On a rainy Tuesday night this week, I was in New York City searching frantically for 530 West 27th Street, the site of “Sleep No More”—a Macbeth-inspired, Hitchcock-infused performance piece. “Sleep No More” is a large-scale, exploratory performance installation set inside an old hotel.
The show arrived in New York City after a run in a vacant schoolhouse near Boston, where London-based performance group Punchdrunk collaborated with Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre (ART). “Sleep No More” emerges out of Punchdrunk’s penchant for concocting unconventional, immersive theatre experiences “in which roaming audiences experience epic storytelling inside sensory theatrical worlds.” Punchdrunk has developed groundbreaking “immersive theatre” in England, creating works in tunnels, warehouses, and factories, and other abandoned spaces—but Sleep No More is the company’s first US foray
“Sleep No More” captivates audiences in the McKittrick Hotel in West Chelsea, which has been revived and transformed into a conceptual dreamspace that melds the world of Shakespeare’s Scottish play with the decadence of 1930s film noir.
Upon entering, the concierge handed me the Joker and my companion the King of Spades (our tickets), and directed us down a staircase that led into a series of dark, mazelike tunnels. I will admit, I was a bit freaked out but equally intrigued. Then we entered into into a lively bar,decorated with reds, black, bathed in low lighting. Women in gowns danced to jazzy melodies performed by a band, who backed a sultry singer reminiscent of Billie Holiday. Tuxedoed men sat together, sipping prohibition like cocktails.
Next, a distinguished British man swept about a group of us audience members into a darkened hallway. There, a lady in a gorgeous sequined gown gave us white Venetian masks to wear for through out the show. The British man explained that the piece was best experienced alone, and even threw one patron out alone on a floor, to the dismay of his date! We should explore, have no fear. With that, we were taken up in an elevator and sent into the dream of “Sleep No More.”
The performance consisted of six floors of this abandoned hotel, 10,000 square feet in total, with about 20 actors roaming throughout. Apparently there were four stories going on simultaneously, it was up to each of us audience member’s to view what they wanted, at any given time. We were free to roam around, wander from floor to floor, go into each room and look at whatever it was decorated with. In every room, there were old photos with names and dates on the back, old journals and diaries to help viewers better understand the show.
The detail was impeccable. A room that was supposed to be a candy shop had shelves stocked with various amounts of candy, and I helped myself to some gummy balls, which I proceeded to eat immediately, the room smelled so sweet. There was a room that was supposed to be an outdoor trail…with dirt and trees…it smelled like I really was in a forest. A room with dried botanic’s…it smelled like flowers.
One large room was transformed into a hospital wing; dimly lit and crucifixes were everywhere. There were two long rows of empty beds and scattered hospital records, very spookily. A room of the hospital was filled with hundreds of hair samples sealed in vials. I sat at the chair, touching, reading some of them. One of the rooms that sent a chill down my spine was a child’s nursery. In the middle of the room a crib with an enormous hanging mobile of decapitated stuffed bears. YIKES. A bloody tub was raised upon a pedestal in the center of Macbeth’s bedroom. As Lady Macbeth stripped off her clothes to briefly reveal a nude body, only to quickly put back on a black sequined dress. She proceeded to dance and throw herself against the walls of her bedroom, all with this trancelike gaze…then dipped into a bloody tub. Although the actors barely spoke, watching them personify these characters inches from you is enthralling, voyeuristic and the opportunity to follow these characters to different locations within the space and follow the story of Macbeth or whatever else you wanted was an amazing experience.
Towards the end of our time with the piece, the characters united in a hall. Standing there with countless other masked audience members seemed to the only moment we were all together, looking up at the actors seated at a grand banquet table They moved through a dramatic slow-motion sequence, this was one of my favorite scenes. As a blood-covered figure was hoisted into the air, about to be and then hanged. My companion and I were then whisked away and back to the red lit bar…we sat and enjoyed a sangria punch, and listened to Etta James’ “At Last.”
Sleep No More
will have performances through June 14
. Buy now! Tickets are almost sold out.
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