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The Doctor

“Sleep No More” (2011) — British Theatre Company Punchdrunk’s Pioneering Immersive Theater Experience in Chelsea, New York City

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With fresh articles about it in the Wall Street Journal and Fast Company, and having just returned from my third visit, I figured this would be a good time to talk about “Sleep No More”— quite likely the most fun thing I’ve ever paid money to do.

For the kid in all of us, what is the most frustrating aspect of going to the theater? You watch a compelling story unfold in front of you, but you’re physically separated from it — trapped in a seat for several hours looking at a distant stage with well-defined boundaries.

“Sleep No More,” an award-winning immersive experience in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, does away with that limitation and pays many more dividends. Notice I said “experience” and not “play” or “show.” Words like that don’t do justice to “Sleep No More,” which is in a class of its own.

The technical term for what they’re doing is “site-specific promenade performance”; some might call it “choose-your-own-adventure theater.” There’s no proscenium. Everyone who attends creates his or her own individual journey. You go where you want. You see what you want. You touch what you want.

Inside, it’s otherworldly and dreamlike. The story is based on “Macbeth” with numerous references to Hitchcock films, most notably “Rebecca.” You’ll encounter murder, madness, witchcraft, and more. Will it be in a ballroom, bedchamber, hospital ward, high street, forest, chapel, speakeasy, or techno rave? You’ll feel as if you’ve gotten lost in another reality, thanks to the talented performers and atmosphere created by the music, lighting, and elaborate detail of seemingly endless sets.

The drama of “Sleep No More” unfolds within the fictitious McKittrick Hotel, which encompasses several multi-story buildings on West 27th Street. For three hours, you become a “guest” in the hotel, where you are free to explore about 100 rooms of various sizes spread out across 100,000 square feet on five or six floors. You can follow characters who will lead you to new scenes, or you can venture out on your own to find where the action is. Audience members wear white masks to set themselves apart from the actors — which also grants the gift of anonymity.

We have British theater company Punchdrunk to thank for creating “Sleep No More,” and the New York incarnation (its third) is now six years old with no signs of slowing down. In 2012 and 2013, respectively, the McKittrick added Gallow Green, a verdant rooftop bar they convert to an enclosed space called The Lodge during winter months, and The Heath, a classy looking restaurant that doubles as an intimate music performance venue. Start your evening in either spot to build some momentum before you go to the main event, where the Manderley Bar, a cocktail lounge with live entertainment, is also available to help you acclimate.

Admission prices vary depending on the day and time you go but average in the low $100s. It’s quite a bargain when you compare the bang-for-your-buck here to the exorbitant prices of Broadway shows.

And speaking of Broadway — when Leslie Odom Jr. concluded his tenure as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” how could he top that? He did a guest stint at “Sleep No More.” So have have many other celebrities, such as Neil Patrick Harris, who said that the first time he attended, he "was euphoric, literally buzzing on a molecular level." You never know who could be behind the masks of your fellow hotel guests.

Due to increased popularity, the performances have tended to get more crowded over time — to the point of diminishing the experience. However, there are late shows on Friday nights that don’t usually sell out, which makes one’s visit much more personal and rewarding.

As the articles linked in the first paragraph say, this type of entertainment is catching on. But for now, there’s nothing out there on the spectacular scale of “Sleep No More.” And nothing more addictive.

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