Sleep No More

A sign for the McKittrick Hotel in NY.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons

Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More has been a popular spectacle in New York City since it opened there in 2011, and it’s no less novel for its four years of nine performances a week. Originally an eccentric avant-garde performance for in-the-know aficionados in London, in NYC it has become something both more mainstream (with a bar and restaurant inside the McKittrick Hotel (which is not a hotel)) and more exotic.

Any night of the week, you can pay between $75 and $170 for a ticket and join several hundred other spectators in freely exploring the 100,000 square feet of space in the Hotel, watching an artistic, macabre, and most noticeably wordless version of The Scottish Play.

Sleep No More is not a play in the formal sense. You do not sit and watch a narrative unfold on a stage. Instead, spectators are encouraged to choose a single character among the large cast and follow them throughout over a hundred rooms, including ghostly hospital corridors, moss-dripping gardens, blood-soaked bedrooms and any number of bathrooms (Sleep No More’s characters have a great deal of blood to wash off).

If you can’t keep up or don’t wish to, you’re welcome to simply explore the richly detailed building, pawing through props, reading diaries and letters, searching for hidden details. (Alfred Hitchcock-themed “Easter eggs” are everywhere.) The rules are few: you have to stay masked and silent, and you cannot touch the actors, though they may well touch you.

The actors themselves perform in silence, in groups or alone, occasionally in dance. As the only people present not wearing masks, they seem somehow more human than the hovering bird-masked audience, more real.

When Sleep No More opened in London in 2003, its creators expected a six-week run. A dozen years later, it is still going strong in its new home across the ocean, and by all accounts, no one involved has slacked off on the experience.

Most criticism of the show is directed at the growing number of in-show purchases that have become available over recent years. Since its opening, two themed bars have opened inside the Hotel, with drinks priced at $16 a shot or more, and souvenir hawkers are particularly aggressive on your way to the exit. But none of that detracts from the spectacle itself, which is well worth the ticket price.

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