I’m with four other young women and we are chasing Macbeth down an alleyway towards pulsing electronic music. We’ve followed him through the streets, from his home where his wife washed the blood off his naked skin. We find ourselves in a smoky club surrounded with people wearing strange white masks, the same that we ourselves are wearing. Suddenly, a strobe light spulses and a pagan orgy ensues on the tables just inches from us. Our Macbeth is bloody once more.
This was just within the first hour of my three hour experience at Sleep No More, a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with heavy brushes of Hitchcock’s Rebecca in 100 rooms of the “McKittrick Hotel.” The hotel is actually an old warehouse in Chelsea, but the rooms are so incredibly detailed in their decoration you forget you’re even in New York. (Or that you have to go to work in the morning.) At one point, I was leaning against a table and realized it was dusty, then realized there was no way it could already be dusty from time. You can open drawers, cabinets, look through microscopes, type on typewriters, and study cases of taxidermy birds, and this is all without engaging in the action constantly taking place around you.
I was in the very first group of the night, and first found myself alone in a hospital where a nurse was cutting pages from a Bible, then I wandered into a dark forest maze that had a taxidermy mountain goat at its center. Even if you come with friends, it’s almost impossible to stay together with everyone wearing the same mask and characters offering you their hands. I don’t want to give too much away by going into great detail, although it would be impossible to have the same experience twice. All the action plays out simultaneously in an hour loop, and in vocal silence. I spent the first hour following Macbeth (sometimes running after him, once almost losing him in a forest of lighted trees), which gave me a good idea of who the characters were. Later in the night, the major characters sort of formed “posses” of people who were following them and great crowds would meet at pivotal scenes. Which is when I decided to follow the less central characters, like the man who worked in the taxidermy shop, who I stalked alone into a foggy graveyard where he dug a skull from the earth. I also visited with the bartender who first writhed on a mortuary table and later danced with me and offered me mysterious shots. There were opportunities to go into locked rooms alone with the characters, if you so dared. I did once, and ended up with a kiss, a necklace, and the discovery of a secret passageway.
There were a few things I found frustrating, like when I realized the play was going in a loop and almost ended up at the club orgy again. (Once is enough for the naked witches and rams heads; once, and I’ll remember it forever.) It’s also been a while since I’ve read Macbeth, and I had a hard time figuring out who the characters were. All the men were wearing similar formal clothing. My friend pointed out afterward that it was a little like being in a giant Brooklyn bar, with taxidermy animals, vintage furniture, and handsome men wearing vests. (I spotted one moustache as well.) Most of the action played out in modern dance, and while often beautiful and breathtaking, especially during the fight sequences, I wished that there was a little dialogue.
I was incredibly impressed with how coordinated everything was, and how even with the end of night swarms of white masks, you could still find yourself completely alone with a character, you their only audience. This last happened to me with the wounded Banquo (or his ghost) as he dragged himself to the final banquet where all the characters are united in a slow and fatal scene.
Sleep No More recently extended its run, so there are tickets again and I definitely recommend going. I’m tempted to go again, because there were so many characters I barely got to see and rooms I hardly visited. I apparently missed a candy store!
No photography was allowed, but the New York Times has a really great photo slideshow with narration on the sets to give you an idea of the atmosphere.