Warning! Here there be spoilers for Sleep No More. Read no further if you want to stay in ignorance. Seriously. I'm not censoring what I reveal here. Okay fine. Keep reading. I warned you.
How do I even attempt to describe Sleep No More?
I could start with the nearly pitch-black maze right after coat check that almost gave me a panic attack (thank goodness the man in front of me had a white shirt to reflect what little light there was).
I could mention the white masks every audience member is asked to wear - masks that put us all in anonymity and isolation, shadowing our eyes and distinguishing us from the unmasked performers.
I could skim at the surface of how they've transformed a five-story warehouse into a fully-treated installation - crackling wallpaper, chests of drawers, desks, all filled with scraps of paper, notes, cameos, photographs, bars of soap. The smoke-filled forest. The maze of crates and boxes. The graveyard. The candy shop. The statues so real I was afraid to touch them in case it was an actor about to grab me. The open casket. The surgical observatory. The infirmary. The hall of empty tubs. The bed filled with potatoes. The child's bedroom full of headless dolls. The empty perambulators. The taxidermist.
I could even try to describe some of the scenes I witnessed - and, try as I might, I still couldn't give it all to you. I can't share my night, because the magic of this production is each person has a highly individualized experience.
Sleep No More is a product of Punchdrunk, a British theatre company that creates "immersion" theatre - a fully-realized highly-atmospheric installation environment that the audience ("guests") can wander about and explore and investigate to whatever degree they prefer. Within this space are the dancers, acting out highly acrobatic stylized scenes from whatever work is being adapted. Sometimes the guests stumble onto a scene - or onto one of the dancers on his own - and sometimes the scene stumbles onto the guests. Sleep No More is specifically an adaptation of Macbeth, with strong influences from Hitchcock films, chiefly Rebecca.
There is almost no spoken word in the whole night - occasionally you will catch a character on his own and he will be muttering a line of text - Macbeth, crouched on a wall, putting his shoes back on, "a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing" - Lady Macbeth, mad and lost, grabbing guests and whispering French in their ears or screaming out "Enough!" - a man in a suit, a dead bird in his hand, making a phone call, saying, "Hello Phyllis? It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood." - but most of the interaction is in body and in facial expression.
The maddening, wonderful thing about this work is that you can't catch everything - there are scenes and interactions happening simultaneously on all five floors of the installation. Some guests choose to stay in one room and wait for the scenes to come to them. Some guests will follow a performer as she goes from scene to scene - but they have to be prepared to run, as Macbeth sprints up two flights of stairs in quick succession, running to find his mad wife roaming the halls, or to find Duncan asleep in his bed and smother him. I followed a witch down a narrow corridor after the orgy scene (which included a ram's head and a bloody baby and strobes strobes strobes), chasing her full-out, and when I turned the corner I had seen her take, she was gone - but there was Lady M, so it was okay.
I followed Macduff after finding his murdered pregnant wife and encountered him in an intense battle with a woman in black, as they slipped over and around each other through a door that had been unhinged and was now the barrier they half-carried, half- dragged or slid on the balcony corridor. She finally dragged the door to an empty doorway and disappeared from view behind it, and he was left with the door on his own. He later found his wife, alive again, as they dressed for the upcoming banquet.
I saw the Boy Witch in an erotic and murderous encounter at a wall of phone booths - first with one of the other witches, and then with an unidentified man that ended in a strangling.
The highlight for me was the Macbeths' bedroom - here Macbeth ran to hide, afraid of the dark tasks ahead of him, but was caught up by his wife. After an intense physical fight/seduction that ranged all the walls of the space, the bed, the furniture, he left in a fury - and when he returned, covered in Duncan's blood, Lady M stripped him and bathed him in the tub. When he again fled, she began a slow slipping into madness, first trying to wash the blood off her own body, then trapping herself within her wardrobe and banging on the now-transparent wall to try to free herself.
There were true small treats too - I managed to follow Macbeth as he climbed down a flight of stairs; mid-flight he paused, encountering his Lady climbing up. She smiled slyly, handed him a necklace, which he pocketed, and then they parted.
The dancing in this piece was truly spectacular and athletic - people climbing walls and ceilings, bent in impossible positions, contorting and climbing as if in a nightmare where gravity did not exist. Never have I seen a performance so perfectly choreographed to its space, nor a space used so fully and well.
And there was so much I missed! Apparently there was a card game in a room I never found (and a murder there too!). Someone in the bar was reading palms and Hecate lip-synced. Macbeth scratched messages in the dirt of the graveyard. The woman in black tried to poison Lady Macduff with milk. A forest of Christmas trees took over the ballroom, as characters waltzed. Certain performers will sneak off a guest for a one-on-one encounter in a hidden locked room. I barely saw the witches until near the end of my second cycle. And there were nurses! I still have no idea what they did. And certain large rooms I visited more than once in the hope that there would be a scene, but they were always empty.
And the conclusion of each cycle is of course the banquet scene. This ... this is one spoiler I won't reveal.
The completist in me is quietly moaning about the many things I didn't catch but later snooped up about online. But the truth is, it's not about catching everything. This really is an immersion, it's this huge intense dreamlike experience, you're caught in this loop with the characters, all trapped by their inescapable paths toward blood and destruction.
As of right now, the show is running through July. Go see it if you can. Wear running shoes. And don't kneel near the murdered Duncan unless you're prepared to get fake blood on your pants.