Upon purchasing tickets for Sleep No More, I was filled with excitement, apprehension and much curiosity. As I had little-to-no idea what I was getting myself onto, I perused reviews from the New York Times, TONY and NY Mag, only to be left with more uncertainty and questions.
What is this performance/site specific experience/immersive adventure that I’ll be embarking on?
Why must we wear a bone colored, plague doctor mask and refrain from speaking the entire time?
Is this going to scare the crap out of me for the foreseeable future and impact my sleep/life/sanity?
Fortunately, by the end of the experience, my questions were answered and I fared remarkable well.
For a little background, Sleep No More is a (very) loose adaptation of McBeth, staged by London-based theater company Punchdrunk. The “show” takes place in the fictional McKittrick Hotel, set in the 1930’s or 40’s, is non-narrative and expansive. You are encouraged to roam about the 90+ rooms that cover nearly 100,000 square feet in three abandoned warehouses on West 27th street.
Upon entering the space, you’re informed that the more inquisitive and bold you are, the more you will discover (and you quickly realize that this is like nothing you’ve ever experienced). My fellow guest (my husband) and I quickly got to exploring, though we didn’t know what we were looking for (and couldn’t discuss, since we were forbade to talk). There was much, indeed, to see and rummage through – all of the drawers were filled with papers and files, there was something in everything.
“Rooms” varied from a sanitarium- fully equipped with soaking tubs, hospital beds, doctor’s offices and padded rooms. Various floors presented different, yet complimentary, experiences and the hotel was fully equipped with a lobby, restaurant, ballroom and more. The village was comprised of houses, a tailor’s shop, an apothecary and beyond. And there were, of course, “outdoor” rooms too, with a graveyard, and a hedge (or rather stick) maze. Plenty of different environments to explore.
After about 30 minutes in, we happened upon our first actor, who was sleeping in a well decorated, beautiful bedroom (the attention to detail from floor to ceiling just blew my mind). We proceeded to watch her for a few, until she rose, primped and moved along. As this isn’t a typical hotel, she didn’t exit through the door, of course, but opened a closet and disappeared into the back of it. Knowing that we’re encouraged to explore and thinking, “when will I ever get a chance to trail someone through a secret closet-door?” we followed her. It was there that things began to unfold and we were enveloped into a deeper story rife with pantomiming, interpretative dance and yes, murder.
There was another lovely option – if one needed a break, was too overwhelmed or was actually thirsty – and the bar proved a welcoming respite. After enjoying champagne, we decided to explore some more, stayed until the clock struck 2 a.m. and were just spent.
Upon reflection, I’ve been trying to extract a deeper meaning to the whole experience. I’ve been striving to come up with some semblance of meaning, beyond the superficial allure of the set design, but am falling short. There’s no denying that the set is absolutely amazing, awe inspiring and intricately detailed, but beyond that, what did the show mean? What did I take from it?
While I wish I could provide some thought provoking critique or insightful analysis, I really can’t. On a personal level, this was yet another illustration of how my imagination can easily depart from logic and I can seriously freak myself out. I also learned how rule-bound, restrictive and cautious I am. Despite the fact that I knew we were welcome to explore any area, I found I stuck close to my husband and didn’t venture out on my own (for fear of I don't know what).
Overall, it was an amazing and worthwhile experience. Akin to a dream, it was eerie, mysterious and beautiful. Certainly out of my comfort zone, the marvel and majesty was beyond compare and I implore anyone who’s interested to check out Sleep No More.