Sleep No More
Sleep No More is the New York City production of a site-specific, interactive work of theatre created by British theatre companyPunchdrunk, based on their original 2003 London incarnation (at the Beafoy Building), their Brookline, Massachusetts 2009 collaboration with Boston’s American Repertory Theatre (at the Old Lincoln School), and William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The company reinvented Sleep No More as a co-production with Emursive, and began performances on March 7, 2011. Sleep No Morewon the 2011 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience and won Punchdrunk special citations at the 2011 Obie Awardsfor design and choreography.
Sleep No More adapts the story of Macbeth, deprived of all spoken dialogue and set primarily in a dimly-lit, 1930s-era establishment called the “McKittrick Hotel”: the website of which claims it has been recently “restored” but is actually a block of warehouses in Manhattan, transformed into a hotel-like performance space. Sleep No More‘s presentational form is considered promenade theatre, in which the audience walks at their own pace through a variety of theatrically designed rooms, as well as environmental theatre, in which the physical location, rather than being a traditional playhouse, is an imitation of the actual setting.
Sleep No More is set in a building with five floors of theatrical action, putatively called the McKittrick Hotel, though with many rooms and features not normally associated with hotels, including those which resemble an antiquated lunatic asylum, doctor’s offices, children’s bedrooms, a cemetery, indoor courtyards, shops, a padded cell, a ballroom, taxidermist’s menageries, and so on. The actors and their environment all adopt the dress, decor, and aesthetic style of the early 20th century, inspired by the shadowy and anxious atmosphere offilm noir. The production “leads its audience on a merry, macabre chase up and down stairs, and through minimally illuminated, furniture-cluttered rooms and corridors.” Audience members begin their journey in a fully operational lounge, the Manderley Bar, from which they enter an elevator that transports them to the major floors of the “hotel” and sometimes ejects audience members randomly, separating them from their friends.
Sleep No More tells the story of Macbeth, though the audience is given no programme and there is no speaking from either the actors or audience. The actors (unlike the audience members) wear no masks and perform in passionate, silent, group settings; solitary scenes; and, sometimes, choreographed dances. Audience members are instructed to remain silent and masked at all times once they have boarded the hotel’s elevator up until the time they return to the Manderley Bar; however, they may move freely at their own leisure for up to three hours, choosing where to go and what to see, so that everyone’s journey is unique; they may also exit the premises at any point. Audience members may thus follow one or any of the actors throughout the performance, or they may independently explore the many rooms of the building; in groups or alone. The audience is also encouraged to investigate by opening drawers, examining the numerous written diaries, letters, and other props found throughout the set. Recorded music plays steadily throughout the building at all times.
The McKittrick Hotel
Sleep No More takes place at the fictional McKittrick Hotel, a reference to the film Vertigo (the McKittrick’s fully functional Manderley Bar is a reference to another Hitchcock film, Rebecca ). According to the fictitious description on its official website, the hotel was completed in 1939 and “intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel.” The site goes on to explain that “six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public” until it was restored and reinvented by Punchdrunk and Emursive.
The McKittrick Hotel is actually three adjoining warehouses in Chelsea’s gallery district at 530, West 27th Street. The address is the former home of megaclubs Twilo, Spirit, Guesthouse, Home, Bed and more. The 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) space has been transformed by Punchdrunk into “some 100 rooms and environments, including a spooky hospital, mossy garden and bloody bedroom.”
Eric Jackson Bradley
Critics have compared the production to other works from a wide range of media, with New York Magazine’s Scott Brown referencing BioShock, Lost, Inception, and M. C. Escher, and The New York Times’ Ben Brantley referencing Stanley Kubrick, Joseph Cornell, David Lynch and Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The production is mostly wordless, prompting The New Yorker’s Hilton Als to write: “Because language is abandoned outside the lounge, we’re forced to imagine it, or to make narrative cohesion of events that are unfolding right before our eyes. We can only watch as the performers reduce theatre to its rudiments: bodies moving in space. Stripped of what we usually expect of a theatrical performance, we’re drawn more and more to the panic the piece incites, and the anxiety that keeps us moving from floor to floor.”
The show has received positive reviews in several publications including, The New York Times, New York Magazine, The New York Post, and Time Out New York, as well as a critical essay in The New Yorker and the cover article of the August, 2011 Vanity Fair.
- “Shakespeare Slept Here, Albeit Fitfully”, New York Times, April 13, 2011
- “The Freakily Immersive Experience of Sleep No More”, New York Magazine, April 15, 2011
- “Official Sleep No More web site”. Emursive Productions. Retrieved 2011-08-23.
- “Manderley”. Wikipedia. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
- “Hotel History”. Sleepnomorenyc.com. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
- “Stage Is Set. Ready for Your Part?”, The New York Times, March 16, 2011
- “Shadow and Act”, The New Yorker, May 02, 2011
- “Something Wickedly Good”, The New York Post, April 13, 2011
- “Theatre Review: Sleep No More”, Time Out New York, April 15, 2011
- “Hollywood Is Her Oyster”, Vanity Fair, July 05, 2011
“Official Sleep No More web site”. Emursive Productions. Retrieved 2011-08-23.
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