Inspired by MacBeth, Sleep No More is an immersive theatrical production put on by the British company Punchdrunk, where the play literally happens around the audience as they move freely and choose their own path through the story. I will try to summarize the evening held at the McKittrick Hotel for you as honestly as I can.
We began in the basement of a hot, dark building, in a line, where we were required to check our belongings. Once inside, we were called in groups by numbers, escorted into a smaller, warmer room, and were instructed to put on our masks. Yes, all "guests" are required to wear masks. (Think Phantom of the Opera.) While waiting, masked, in smaller/darker/hotter room, a shrieking alarm sounded accompanied by a blinding flashing light. We weren't sure if this was part of the experience, but ultimately realized it was a fire alarm. A Disney-type Haunted Mansion character, our host in the smaller/darker/hotter/room, was equally flustered and finally allowed us to enter, surely a de-dramatized version of the actual entrance procedure, but with an added element of drama with the unaddressed possibility of an actual fire.
The five floor, hundred room maze is open for guests to freely roam and explore, all the while being distracted by actors and actresses (unmasked) who partake in odd and disturbing performances. The seasoned guests are quickly detected as they scurry from room to room in search of the characters, and stand inches away from them hoping to be mistaken for part of the show. To their dismay, the phantom masks give them away.
The heat factor became increasingly prominent, what with the sheer number of bodies together with the 100 degree weather outside, the traipsing upstairs and down, and running from room to room, all contributing to a particularly intense body odor problem. Also noted was the unusual amount of gas being passed throughout the two - three hour experience. As in human gas... aka farts. Perhaps the masks provided a false sense of confidence.
Did I mention there is no talking? That's right, neither guests nor actors utter a single word the entire evening. This rule is upheld thanks to guards (black masks to distinguish from our white) who quickly reprimand guests who might attempt to communicate in the quietest of whispers. The guest is shushed with a very serious and firm finger to the mouth. I experienced the shushing firsthand as I attempted to signal my readiness to go to my daughter.
I continued (silently) to plan a solo escape from the hellish nonsense as I wandered aimlessly from room to room, floor to floor, taking in the strange and unrelated performances, and could not wait to be rid of the heat and smell, and the mask. Finally, after two hours, we departed with opposite reviews of the evening.
Perhaps it was the 46 versus 22 age difference? Come to think of it, I'm sure I was the oldest person participating.
Despite my review, I am down with talent. I get it. However, I would prefer enjoying said talent on a stage, minus masks, plus air-conditioning.
The play experience has been sold out and extended for months. Clearly, my review does not match up with others, most notably my daughter's.
Read the NYT Theater Review here.
Photo credits here, here, and here.