The last show I saw before leaving New York was the one I knew I was going to see before I ever arrived. Sleep No More is a fully immersive theatrical experience that takes place in a five story warehouse, outfitted into a 1930s hotel. The concept is Macbeth meets Film Noir.
When you enter, you are handed a mask and asked not to speak during the experience. You’re separated from your friends and ushered into an elevator where a worrisome operator lets a few people off on each floor. He decides where you get off. Once released, you are on your own. The first room I entered was a vast graveyard. It was dark and dusty and filled with a chilling soundscape. I was absolutely terrified. I eventually found my way into a better lit room where there was some commotion and I saw a crowd of people huddled around two performers: a man and a woman. They were dancing, but not quite dancing. It was a physical performance, a communication between the two of them, a couple’s quarrel. They were slowly getting dressed as if for a night out. Abruptly, the woman leaves in one direction and the man in another. We can chose who to follow.
The piece was disturbing yet brilliant. I have never seen such set decoration. Each floor of the fictional hotel, each room or courtyard was a work of art. From mortician’s office, to asylum, to taxidermist’s menagerie, to candy shop, to child’s bedroom. Each space was filled with furniture, trinkets, letters we were free to peruse. And everything matched the time period and created a sense of foreboding. Depending on the space you were in, the music went from crackly period radio and love songs to screeching winds, to horror film soundtrack. The level of detail was astounding and entering a room alone was terrifying. Every so often, a scene was taking place in one of the rooms. The most elaborate one involved several characters whom I understood to be the Weird Sisters, performing a maniacal ritual under strobe lights and finding themselves inexplicably covered in blood.
The performers were astounding. Working with their bodies, gazes, and a high level of artistry and presence, they created utterly mesmerizing performances. I could not tell if their backgrounds were in dance or in physical theatre, perhaps a combination of both but, like every other element of this piece, they were top notch.
After a period of time I would not have been able to quantify, I received a tap on the shoulder and a masked individual indicated the way to the stairs. I found myself in a large hall with hundreds of other masked strangers. On stage, the actors were gathered together in a slow motion dinner scene, which ultimately ended in Macbeth’s chilling death. It was only once I was outside that I found my friend Amy again. We went to a local bar for a drink. Neither of us really knew what to say about what we had experienced, so we stayed silent a long while.