An Incredible Theatrical Journey

I don’t have vast knowledge of theater, but I love seeing plays (even though I don’t do it often). Still, I knew that I absolutely needed to see a play I heard about for a long time now. It’s called „Sleep No More” and it’s a spectacle – or rather an interactive „experience” – devised by a British group Punchdrunk. Reviews told me that „you have never experienced anything like it” and that I’m in for „once-in-a-lifetime ride”. Together with my friend we decided to take the risk.

The play is an original work by Punchdrunk and was first staged in 2003. It’s been directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle.

The plot is inspired by Shakespeare’s „Macbeth” and by Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. The production takes place in Manhattan, in a warehouse turned into a derelict Hotel McKittrick (an homage to Hitchocock’s „Vertigo”). The place includes five floors of theater space, as well as a cemetary, doctor’s office, kids’ bedrooms, internal courtyards, shops, a ball room and… a psychiatric ward. The costumes and art direction are inspired by the early 20th century style, as well as film noir.

The unique nature of the show is that it offers a different journey for each member of the audience. How come? The viewers don’t just sit there and look upon the stage. The cast is acting the play out on different floors, moving around constantly. The audience is also moving around the hotel for the three hours of the play. You can follow a given cast member, or a particular group of viewers. In fact, each member of the audience can start their very own journey through the nooks and crannies of the hotel and make the play into a private, unforgettable experience. You never know what is about to happen in ant given room, or which way a cast member is about to run away.

Most fun (and thrills) is provided by the play’s preceding segment, before the show really begins. You start your journey in a hotel lounge, at a bar called Manderlay (honoring Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning „Rebecca”). Before you reach the bar, you’re handed a playing card with a number on it, after which you walk a dark corridor, which – frankly speaking – scared us shitless (especially since me and Gosia lost one another). The dark tunel leads you straight into a bar, the look of which suggests the Prohibition era. A live band is playing (the musicians are gorgeous!), handsome bartenders serve drinks and incredibly hot girls keep offering you shots. Everything is very sexual. After a minute or so, one of the musicians starts calling out numbers and people who have them head to an elevator. You finish your drink (I got scared that my number will come up first, so I practically inhaled my drink, which actually turned out well for me). Then you get your mask. Here, in contrast to all other shows, it’s the audience that’s wearing masks (and you are not allowed to remove it!).  In the elevator you receive instructions on how to behave, as well as are told to remain completely silent. The play takes place in total silence; no words are spoken, and the only human sounds are occasional shrieks of terror.

When me and Gosia left the „hotel” (we didn’t see each other for 3 hours, since each of us chose a different way) we couldn’t really describe what we just experienced. We weren’t blown away, but we weren’t disappointed, either. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was a unique and worthwile experience. What I remembered from the show was also a pair of Asians who held hands for the entire duration of the play (I saw them couple of times). One time it was he who pulled her in a desired direction, at other times it was her who was in charge. I wonder what was the experience like for them…

The play can be seen in Manhattan, at the McKittrick Hotel, 530 W 27th St. Ticket prices range from $75 to $162.