Sleep No More

Interview

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sleep No More may be the most unusual, fantastical take on Macbeth ever produced.  The London-based theater company Punchdrunk has transformed 100,000 square feet of New York City warehouse space into a meticulously detailed world — a kind of Macbeth theme park with no signage or maps or instructions. 

The result is part art installation, part dance performance, part giant maze: audience members are free to wander through the space and encounter performers as they pass through 100 meticulously designed rooms.

Punchdrunk artistic director Felix Barrett shows Kurt Andersen around the set.  He says the superstitions in Shakespeare’s Macbeth fascinated him — enough to permeate every single room in Punchdrunk’s production. “Every single space has some sort of superstition within it,” he explains.  “Either it’s something that’s preventative and it wards off evil and protects against witches, which means our Witches can't actually enter. Or it’s something that’s a curse, a hex upon the space that’s sucking the darkness in.”

 

Bonus Track: Gallow Green

The characters in Sleep No More are always on-stage, even when not directed by Shakespeare — which means they need backstories.  Felix Barrett takes Kurt Andersen to the Witches’ stomping grounds.

 

Slideshow: Wandering Through Sleep No More

Jenny Lawton

Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More is set in the so-called McKittrick Hotel in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Thom Kaine

Inside the hotel, audience members are encouraged to explore the Macbeth-inspired space – 100,000 square feet chock full of superstition and intrigue.

Thom Kaine

Audience members can wander through six floors of the meticulously detailed set.

© Alick Crossley

Along the way, audience members encounter characters from the show.  Tori Sparks (center) with masked audience members.

©Yaniv Schulman

Nicholas Bruder as Macbeth and Sophie Bortolussi as Lady Macbeth – a masked audience member looks on.

Thom Kaine

In the hotel’s breakfast room, silverware is formed into crosses and stands in piles of salt to ward off evil spirits, including the Witches.

Thom Kaine

In the guardsman’s cottage, Lady Macduff has created a shrine of photos, bible verses, and other scraps in the hopes of protecting her children.

Thom Kaine

Audience members are encouraged to open drawers, touch props, and scrutinize every detail of the production.

©Yaniv Schulman

Audience members are encouraged to scrutinize performers as well.  Matthew Oaks (center) with audience members.

    Music Playlist
  1. Sleep No More
    Album: Original Music from the Stage Production
  2. Main Title/Forwarding/Opening Scene
    Artist: Franz Waxman
    Album: Rebecca (Remastered)
    Label: Varese Sarabande
    Purchase: Amazon

Guests:

Felix Barrett

Produced by:

Jenny Lawton and Josh Rogosin

Comments [6]

John O'Brien from NYC

Fantastic! Macbeth is probably my favorite Shakespeare and I was riveted, trying to decode the plot and follow the right people. Bone up on the play if you don't know it; it will be a far richer experience.

Jun. 22 2011 09:29 AM
erin

this was an amazing thing to experience. i went back a second time and found it just as interesting and well done the second time around, and i found and experienced things that i hadn't the first time. i found that my companions that went in with an open mind, were endlessly curious and went along with the production enjoyed and appreciated it more than those that went it with a preconceived notion as to what it should be.

Jun. 17 2011 02:20 PM
Marco from Manhattan

About "Sleep No More": You might have been taken by the decor and the fact that you were let into the "VIP floor", however I believe the show is a big hoax based, as usual in the USA, on good marketing (that includes shows like yours). The lack of structure made my experience totally frustrating. Nothing ever happens (except some "dancing" that makes very little sense and that is not really engaging or particularly beautiful). Of course the dancers are all professional and good, but the "choreography" is dull and boring. Where was MacBeth anyway? I mean the story... of course the only thing one could see about the story was MacBeth getting naked (we always need someone naked, right?) and washed up by his lady in the tub... very engaging indeed... I started the experience with curiosity and the will to have "a new theater experience" but I finished angry, very tired, and wanting my money back (lots of money by the way). That show is not at all art. It is only a clever use of space and people's will to interact with performers. Your guest mentioned "mystique". I honestly did not feel any of that.
In stead of giving room and advertise for this, wouldn't it be so much better to talk about the incredibly good ballet season, that is happening now at ABT, for example? Art, real skills, and even entertainment are happening somewhere in NY, but certainly not in that former hotel...

Jun. 12 2011 12:15 PM
jimbo from NYC

One thing not mentioned ... audience members who have the temerity to lift their masks due to trouble breathing -- they are suffocating in the heat and poorly ventilated rooms, especially after trudging up and down stairs -- will be asked to leave by black masked security personnel whose identity and role is entirely unclear until you are being escorted to the nearest exit by a phalanx of the "brown shirts" who seem barely 20! Would've been nice to know before plunking down a hundred bucks!

Jun. 12 2011 12:08 PM
Scott

Punchdrunk as a company may indeed be 'pioneer's in the art of immersive theater', but this is hardly New York's first experience with the genre. I saw the play Tamara back in '87 at the armory up on 66th and Park, where we followed the actors around through 3 or 4 different floors, and one could choose whom to follow, and change your mind in mid-scene. That was my first experience of this type of staging, and it takes some getting used to...

Jun. 12 2011 11:52 AM
Vic

Didn't know where to go or where to look--I just sort of bumbled around in the pitch dark---when there was some sort of event worth seeing others around me rushed to it so I was unable to see it anyway--sort of being the last one at a bus stop. There were teases of visual imagination--but again, very difficult to become aware of and to reach.Would it sacrifice its 'purity' if there were some kind of time or spatial diagram that prepared you for floors of utter chaos?

Jun. 12 2011 01:28 AM

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