This last Friday, I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the most unique artistic experiences in my time, Sleep No More: an immersive theatre affair, mainly inspired by Shakespeare's Macbeth and various Alfred Hitchcock films, where the viewer is given the liberty to float in and out of rooms and story lines throughout their stay.
Punchdrunk, the London based theatre company responsible, has settled nicely into the Chelsea district of New York City, renovating the formerly condemned McKittrick Hotel into a demented, creepy space straight from a film noir nightmare. As I was ushered into the hotel's bar (the waiting area before you enter the performance), it was as if I was instantly brought back to the 1920s/1930s. Everything, from the decorations to the attire of the bar staff, was straight from a time capsule. When my card (two) was called, myself and my fellow "deuces" gathered at the entrance, where we received the ground rules and our masks, which would turn us into anonymous, voyeuristic ghosts for the duration of the evening.
I was dropped off in a cemetery, setting the dark, ominous tone for the production. After a short journey through a courtyard filled with religious relics, I came upon the master bedroom of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. By knowing the general story line, I could tell it was the scene where Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to murder Duncan. After their "conversation", I wandered around the room, reading various letters scattered on the ground and investigating the drawers tucked away in the corner. I decided it was time to move on with my adventure and entered the nearby stairwell. After walking down one flight, Macbeth came sprinting by me, hands and arms covered crimson in blood. That was the moment where it finally hit me, that was the moment where I sunk into the story...and this is the moment where I stop telling you about my experience in fear that it could spoil yours.
One element that I wasn't expecting was that the performances were essentially devoid of verbal communication. The sex, violence, and deceit are all communicated through dance and physical performance; the motions of the human body do all the talking. Considering the events seen by the viewer are self-determined, the lack of dialogue further allows for personal interpretation of the story.
If a character grabs you, run with them and be consumed by their storyline. If they ask you to dance, start waltzing. Open every closed door, follow every odd sound, or screech, or trail of blood. Punchdrunk provides you with the environment, but the experience is entirely in the hands of the viewer. So be bold, and behind your mask, grin while you soak it all in.
Sleep No More has been extended through Labor Day weekend. Check out the official site for more information and tickets.