The title for Emursive and Punchdrunk’s dance company’s twisted take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Sleep No More, couldn’t be more telling. This thrilling, interactive show is enough to make the hairs on your arm stand and keep you up at night. The show’s scenes, images, and prop installations burn so deeply into the mind that, try as you might, when you close your eyes the show will replay itself again and again behind your lids.
Sleep No More is shown in an old warehouse on the West Side that the producers had renovated to resemble the Mckittrick Hotel from 1939. After checking all extra baggage and coats, I went up to the front desk where I got my room key and a playing card from the friendly, smiling hotel concierge. I passed the lobby and entered a dark, narrow black maze, while thinking that I was about to embark on a terrifying journey. Instead, I entered the Manderley bar, a scene taken right out of the 1930s. The mood was set with dimly lit rooms, red velvet draped walls, and a stage where a lounge singer and her band were turning out some slow swing tunes. There, we, the “Guests,” all socialize, drink, and relax before being admitted individually every few minutes by the overfriendly attendee, an actress, into the rest of the hotel.
When my number, found on my playing card, was called, my fellow number eights and I gathered into a small room were we were handed a Venetian carnival styled mask, which we were told to keep on, and to remain silent throughout our stay at the Mckintrick. We all crammed into the elevator, and were advised by the elevator attendant to watch our step, and to explore on our own.
Punchdrunk are the pioneers of immersive theater—a setting in which the audience gets involved. An audience member can touch the detailed installations and choose what parts of the play she wishes to see and in what order she wishes to see them. When I entered on the fourth floor of the five-story building, my companion and I started to explore the children’s hospital. There was no cheer, but rather an atmosphere of eeriness and abandonment. After exploring for a bit, we suddenly crossed paths with one of the actresses. While trying to keep up and follow that particular actress’s story line, we quickly became separated from the action.
The entire show is performed interpretively through forms of dance, difficult gymnastic moves, fight scenes, and wall climbing. The only sounds from the actors are humming or whistling to a tune, blood curdling screeches, grunts, groans, and chuckles. Each actor runs up and down the five-story building playing out his own part of the story and meeting together with the others at different points, whether it be for a sacrifice, a burial, a game of cards at the pub, or an intimate moment with their wife or lover.
Because of this layout it is nearly impossible to see the entire play from each character’s point of view in one stay. It’s exhilarating, yet hard at times to keep up, because all the other guests are also trying to chase their chosen character and get a better view of the exciting scenes. The entire experience feels dreamlike, where one floats in and out of different locations, interacts with others at her choosing, or stands like a ghost as she quietly explore some desk drawer or reads a private love letter to herself as other dancers go on brawling in the background.
I won’t give away the ending, but all the characters and guests end up in one room, coming together at the close for a dramatic finale. When my companion and I met up again back in the Manderley, finally able to catch a breath, we found that we had two very different experiences and saw two very different shows. However, we were able to connect the dots, seeing how it wove together to form one hugely exciting show.
This show is not for the faint of heart; it is extremely gruesome, bloody, and risqué. But, for those that love a good thrill, a haunted house, and a quick escape from reality, it’s a truly incredible and exhilarating experience.