I love Halloween and I love Sleep No More (for your reference), so when I heard that there was going to be a whole week of themed nights at the theatrical experience for my favorite holiday, I immediately bought tickets to one, and then was asked to a second. Perhaps I am a bit obsessed…
I started with The Darkest Shadow, the Thursday night show where all “guests” were required to wear black. (The audience is referred to as guests as we are checking into the McKittrick Hotel for the experience.) It was cold and rainy when I got to the building, still too early to go inside. So I hid under my umbrella as I waited for my friend, curious how this night would be special from the others. For those who have not followed my extensive exploration of Sleep No More, it’s basically a huge, interactive theatre installation, taking characters from Macbeth and Hitchcock’s Rebecca and placing them in a film noir-esque setting, where they loop through the same tortured actions of murder, love, and violence. The audience wears masks and isn’t allowed to talk, making you a rather startling voyeur.
About when the doors were to open, we noticed a well-dressed group walking down 27th Street in the rain, holding matching black umbrellas, candles, and flowers. There was an immediate silence down the line as they processed by. They were followed at a short distance by the actor who would be playing Macbeth, a ghost at what was his own funeral. One of the characters reached out to give me a flower, which I later found was meant to be placed at Macbeth’s funeral altar inside the McKittrick.
The check in process was a little different. I got a much darker card than usual displaying the Jack of Hearts, but when I went into the bar where you usually wait for your card to be called, I was instead offered an absinthe shot and we toasted “to sleep.” Then I was in the elevator heading into the almost empty space, shaking from the cold and the nervousness of what was going to happen next, even though at this point I have a somewhat good idea.
I again found myself chasing fragments of narrative, mentally connecting them with the puzzle of action that’s already in my head. Like the previous times, I saw many new scenes, following the Porter and the Boy Witch who I’d previously seen only fleetingly. I’d never spent much time in the hotel lobby and was surprised at how many characters careened in and out, and was especially struck by a lip synced performance of Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is” by the Boy Witch, who had forced tears streaming down his face. I saw a few small rooms for the first time and felt able to linger in empty spaces, not under the pressure of earlier visits to see everything immediately.
I knew a party was somehow going to take place after the performance, and as I watched the finale from the balcony, I noticed a gleam of brass instruments in the crowd. While the show usually ends with Macbeth’s death and the audience going out to the small Manderlay Bar, this time a funeral jazz band started playing and a coffin was brought in for Macbeth’s body, which was processed out of the room by the cast. Then a bar was revealed and the party started right there in the ballroom/Birnam Wood. There was delicious absinthe punch, dancers on stilts and pointe shoes, and two other parties, one in the hotel lobby with the jazz band and another in the Manderlay Bar. It was fantastic and I lost track of time… and the fact I had to work the next day.
Luckily, I had tickets to go back on Halloween for La Danse Macabre! This performance again started with the funeral procession on 27th Street, although without the rain it was a little less ominous. However, all the guests were either dressed to terrify or dressed in black, so it was still wonderfully creepy. (Plus there was the actress who gave me a candle and looked in my eyes like she knew me…) The most genius costume I saw that night was someone who dressed just like the masquerade goer in Eyes Wide Shut that wears the Sleep No More mask.
There were again absinthe shots before the elevator and this time all the playing cards were blood splattered, but the best surprise of all was a cameo performance by Alan Cumming in the hospital ward! I thought this new character looked familiar and finally made the connection in my head. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get in on the one-on-ones he was doing, although at one point in the night I did get some rather close interaction from the bald witch that was pretty intense. The audience seemed to be a lot of people who had been before and could anticipate the action, but even if it got crowded later in the night, I still had moments like watching Duncan’s body being discovered while I was almost alone, following his son who had tears on his face as he pulled himself together, that made me forget it was a busy Halloween night.
It was interesting to see two performances so close together, and it really brought out the fact that even if the action is exactly the same, the dancers all bring something unique to their performances. I noticed this most with the boy witches, one of whom was impish and vulnerable, the other of whom was intense and wryly serious. They both brought the character its necessary devious, otherworldly quality, but it made me think of how much my previous experiences were directly influenced by the actors and the tone they set. It’s easy to overlook the individual dancers in the huge production of Sleep No More, with its lavish sets, amazing sound and lighting design (I really appreciated the well-timed flickerings on the town street), and visual effects, but without them it would just be a rather eerie haunted house.
The after party started again at the finale and was again fantastic. It was amazing to be able to just lounge around the sets for the hotel lobby and ballroom and dance to DJed LCD Soundsystem music or jazz standards. (I probably was also staring in awe way too much at Alan Cumming, the actors who were joining the party, and Reggie Watts who I spied in a corner.) I have some photos from the party below, although since I only had my iPhone and it was very dark, they can only give you an idea.