BOTTOM LINE: Unlike any theatrical experience you've ever had. Part themepark, part Shakespeare, Sleep No More is completely immersive theater everyone should experience once.
For quite a few reasons, I almost missed the British theatre company Punchdrunk’s New York installment of Sleep No More. I had done quite a bit of research on the production before biting the bullet and making the trek out to Chelsea to see it (for me, anything west of 10th Avenue is a trek). From what I read ahead of time, I wasn’t sure it was going to be my thing; phrases such as “performance art” and “non-verbal acting” made me quite nervous. I like words and plots and structured scripts. I like fourth walls and assigned seating and personal space, and Sleep No More has none of these things. What this production doesn’t have becomes quickly irrelevant though, because what it does offer is an intricately designed, impeccably executed alternate reality for its audience to step into.
There are two distinct parts of Sleep No More: the physical production, and the personal experience, and both are apt reasons to attend. The production itself encompasses six floors and one hundred rooms which audience members are encourage to explore at their own pace. Actors (although it might be more appropriate to call them dancers) roam the floors enacting scenes in various spots throughout the course of the evening, loosely following the path of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as they go. I didn’t hear any sound uttered, but the intent of various scenes came across clearly none the less, though various forms of physicality. The performers are universally charismatic and compelling; however they aren't the only stars of the production. While I was more than happy to stop and watch a scene being performed, I was happier still when roaming the rooms on my own, without anyone to distract me from the immense amount of detail and sensory information to absorb.
The rooms are both intricate and diverse. Ranging in theme from sweet shop to graveyard, they drown every one of your senses. Audience members are encouraged to interact with the props. At first I was hesitant to touch the different elements of the set. After years of conditioning by other theaters and museums to “not touch,” it’s hard to break old habits, but as I began to flip through journals and books, read handwritten letters, taste the sweets and rummage through drawers, the more I began to forget who and where I was and embody the production. Every word, every texture, every smell and yes, every taste that you experience is clearly chosen to draw you deeper into another world.
Sleep No More is full of surprise revelation and poignant moments; what makes it unique for a theatrical piece is both the ability for these moments to come, even when actors are nowhere to be seen, and the intense level of absorption that occurs during the experience. Wandering through Sleep No More took me further away from my own life than any experience I’ve ever had, in or out of a theater.
The fact that it’s not a traditional theater piece should not deter those afraid of the quirky arts. Sleep No More is a wonderful evening for anyone with the physical ability to handle the stairs and hours of walking, and those with an intrepid sense of curiosity will find it absolutely blissful.
(Sleep No More plays at The McKittrick Hotel, 530 West 27th Street. Performances are seven days a week, entrance times vary. For schedule and more information visit sleepnomorenyc.com. Tickets are $75-$95 and are available at ovationtix.com.)