New York Online Blog

Visit New York Online website »

No Sleepwalking Through Sleep No More

A traditional theater performance features a story delivered to an audience in a singular way, with limited details up to a viewer’s interpretation. The immersive theater experience of Punchdrunk Company’s “Sleep No More,” however, blows convention out of the water, and expects the viewer to watch and understand merely what they truly wish to.

The action takes place in the McKittrick Hotel, and its “guests” – the actors – each have their own, mostly wordless routine they perform in the rooms and hallways of the dimly lit venue. The entire production is appropriately dark and chilling in tone, as inspired by William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The lack of dialogue is more than made up for by a number of incredibly expressive dances, and the soundtrack is equally eerie, providing intrigue to the haunting atmosphere. The audience itself is not limited to any seating or standing room; instead, the viewers are encouraged to explore the hotel on their own, and, if they wish, to follow any actor or actress to get some semblance of a straightforward narrative. There is absolutely no talking allowed, and every person entering the hotel has to put on a rather creepy white, beak-like mask, to discourage recognizing familiar faces, and strongly suggest that the people inside should really pay attention to the action and the setting around them, not their friends. The only structure of the show is loose, and consists of the actors’ movements directing people towards climactic events in the story, and a three-fold repetition of every actor’s scene. Evidently, in contrast to the standard metaphorical theatrical restaurant, “Sleep No More” is an immense buffet: a viewer has to be ready to make decisions in the middle of the performance, and take away from it only what he or she really wants to. The books on set are available to be read, most props and set pieces can be touched, and some scenes break the fourth wall – the actors may interact with a viewer, converse with them, give them a drink. It is a unique thing to see in New York City, and out of all the immersive theater productions, this McKittrick Hotel one is by far the most expansive: there are five floors that altogether comprise 100 rooms to explore. The set is hugely detailed, and leaves everyone wanting to come back. Doing that does not prove difficult – “Sleep No More” tickets are easy to get, and for a reasonable price – if bought ahead of time. Paying at the entrance is often either absurdly expensive or completely impossible; “Sleep No More” reviews are almost of universal praise, and the hype they create ensures that most nights are completely booked hours before show time. It is considerably easier to buy tickets online, as they are always readily available at least a day ahead of time. And while this explosively new take on “Macbeth” may not seem to offer significant insights on it, everyone must enter the halls of the McKittrick hotel with an open mind and a ready will to search for those insights and not simply hope they turn up along the way. The “Sleep No More” theater experience truly is an immersive one: it is not as much watched, as it is participated in.