There’s a haze to the room. The walls and seats are covered in what looks like red velvet. The candles on the tables appear to be the only source of light. They cast long, dark shadows along the walls. It’s a bar, no, more of a speakeasy. It has an air of secrecy, a certain hushed vibe. On the stage, a jazz quartet plays the closing bars, while a blonde beauty in a sparkling silver dress sings the finishing lyrics to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” If I could best summarize my experience at Sleep No More in a statement, that song title would aptly fit.
Through my senior seminar class, "Renaissance Revenge Tragedy," I was recently given the opportunity to attend the interactive theatre extravaganza, Sleep No More. The immersive play takes place in a five-story building in New York City, fictitiously referred to as the McKittrick Hotel. But the play is just as much inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as it is by Hitchcock’s film Vertigo. Patrons of the hotel are given a playing card with a specific number and led through a dark, claustrophobic hallway to the bar area, where they are encouraged to relax with a drink and ease into the experience. Soon, groups are called by playing card number to the elevator, where they don carnival masks and are encouraged to separate from friends and family, as the play is more of “an individual experience.”
Part performance art, part haunted house, the play encourages theatre-goers to explore the various rooms of the five intricately planned floors. At one point, I was in an insane asylum, where nurses attended to phantom patients. At another time, I was in a foggy forest where, behind closed doors, a wooden hut hid a secret gathering of witches. I skulked through a graveyard scene, skimmed through books, leafed through handwritten letters, examined the contents of a room dedicated to taxidermy, and even ate edible candy from the jars of a dilapidated sweet shop. Actors entered and exited rooms at top speed, engaging one another in seductive dance. Groups of masked patrons followed various players. There was a storyline, it was freeform and loose, but it was there. Regardless, each individual person comes away from Sleep No More with a unique experience. The play encourages the audience to become the ghosts of the McKittrick Hotel. We watch scenes of love, lust, violence, and revenge play out in front us. The masks only further add to the experience, allowing the audience to take part in the anonymity of being a fly on the wall.
There’s no perfect way to describe Sleep No More. To truly know, one has to experience it. Leaving the building, I had more questions than answers. There was more to explore, more scenes to watch unfold, more drawers and desks to sift through. Today, I find myself thinking back on my experience. The play—the whole experience—is an enigma, and remains stuck in my mind, like a fly in a spider’s web. There’s a lot more to unpack with this incredibly unique adaptation of Macbeth, and I certainly plan on returning to plunge deeper into the abyss.