Sleep No More
i had never heard of this performance until a month ago. And just as a new idea can invade your thinking, this interactive art piece has been tickling me since i first read it’s wikipedia page.
The performance is based on Macbeth but i agree with the reviewer who said that Shakespeare would likely not recognize it. They have created the old McKittrick Hotel with 5 floors of activity, including a full ballroom and the padded cells and doctors’ offices of a lunatic asylum.
You loose control fairly quickly into the experience. You can relax in the Manderley Bar before the event, where flappers and dandies will engage you in chit chat and you can buy fancy alcohol. But once you leave the bar you are given a mask and stripped of your voice for what can easily be three hours of adventuring.
As an audience in this piece you are never instructed how to interact (or not) with the actors in the performance. And since you are unsure and the actors are both experienced and confident, you simply snap back into appropriate engagement when chided by the professional staff. i saw one participant reach and touch the sleeve of one actor who slapped their hand and froze the action long enough to insure no one else would try such a trick. Yet later in the evening, an actor hugged a member of the audience, for an extended period, much to everyone involved’s surprise.
And while participants wear spooky white masks, and the actors faces are revealed, there is also event security which wears black masks and followed me and stood sulkingly when i tried to talk to a friend about the difficulty in following the plot.
It was visually stunning and very difficult to follow as a story. When we left they offered to sell us a program which describes the 14 hours of scripted performance. I think people go back again and again because they want to get a better understand of what is going on with this complex story. And were i to go again i would certainly read more of the reviews which guide you towards certain aspects of the performance.
Participants are permitted to wander around this elaborate set where they bump into actors who are coming to perform in rooms that they are in, or you might run into them in the stairs and choose to follow them to their next performance. But most of your time you will be investigating the retro version of the Smithsonian on some hallucinogenic drug which poses for the sprawling splendid set of this event. There are slightly cryptic letters left all over, dusty and pristine books beside incriminating straight razors. Stuffed peacocks and rooms filled with ancient bathtubs are to be found.
The action is rich and dramatic. There are fights, and drunken card games (where every king of diamonds is pounded into the wall with a hammer and nail), straight edge shaving scenes on balanced chairs which gave me the willies, some wonderful lip syncing of “If that is all there is” and a lovers’ wrestle which climbs the walls. The actors deserve the rave reviews they have received.
As clever as this pricey production is, i would not recommend it to most people. You need to be seriously into theater or perhaps a Shakespeare scholar or have an overly adventurous mind to make it work well. There are spaces which get closed off and rooms which have limited entrance. And it is mostly ill-lit to create the film noir image that they wanted. But if the museum effects and novelty of the format are not strong enough to hold your attention, you might walk off with a confused and frustrated feeling.
If you do go, go to an early show and plan to stay long.