Sleep No More
Pioneering British thespian outfit, Punchdrunk, bring their singular brand of “immersive theater” to the States with this roaming, living, breathing real-time production of Macbeth. Played out within the dark confines of three converted warehouses on the west side of Manhattan’s Midtown, Sleep No More is a voyeuristic tumble down the rabbit hole into a nightmare of homicidal ambition and hedonistic fervor, in which you the nomadic viewer are in complete control over how, where, and when you experience the performance. Choose a single character and stick with them for the duration, or perhaps rotate your perspective by following multiple characters, or perhaps stay still in one location and see who happens by. It’s entirely your choice.
Attention to detail is crucial to the enjoyment of Sleep No More, not least to what is directly in front of you lest you spend the majority of your visit flat on your face. A pitch-black series of winding corridors serve to adjust your filter upon entry before you emerge in a bar vaguely resembling a 1930’s speakeasy crossed with Twin Peaks’ The Black Lodge where all “employees” are in character befitting the environment. A few glasses of liquor later and you are handed a Venetian carnival mask, instructed to remain absolutely silent, and the staggered admission to the show actually begins. Be prepared – you may well wind up separated from your party and any attempt to coordinate a meet once inside is an object lesson in futility.
Once inside it is up to you as to where you go and whom you follow as characters move around the entirety of the vast, labyrinthine locale, dancing, screwing, murdering – both fully clothed and naked – as any tragedy dictates. It’s initially a frustrating experience as a lack of any easily identifiable entry point into the story can be a source of confusion. Yet after a short while a rhythm to the inconsistencies emerges and the freeform nature of the affair becomes somewhat liberating, and over time the realization that the night is entirely within your control fosters an odd sense of empowerment.
The environment is almost entirely interactive, and short of causing any actual damage you are largely free to go at it as you would like: rifling through drawers and suitcases, reading letters and diaries, rearranging ornaments on a bedside table simply because the whim strikes you. The only hard and fast rule is that you do not touch the actors – although that does not stop them from touching you, offering perhaps a drink or a dance and pulling you into the performance in a manner that is both curious and exhilarating. What becomes most apparent is the manner in which the unforgivable dim luminance heightens your other senses, notably smell. Be it the musty stench of the apothecary or the thick haze of brick dust in the statue garden, a pungent aroma is rarely far away.
Occasionally the sheer logistics do hamstring the idea a little. Trying to cram two-dozen eager audience members into a tiny room while two characters silently engage with one another is challenging. Full disclosure – those particularly short of stature are in for a frustrating time, as are those who happen to wear particularly large spectacles. Even the most intimate knowledge of the plot of MacBeth will scarcely help, such is the disparate nature of the interpretation and the fractured sense of time and continuity. Key scenes – such as the strobe-lit, techno-infused orgy with the witches are repeated several times due to their significance, and helpfully placed, masked guides will usher you towards the banquet hall to ensure no one misses the riveting climax.
By its very nature Sleep No More is an event that you could experience a dozen times and no two would ever be the same. It’s quite unlike anything you’ve likely ever seen. Even if you have already seen it.
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