Sleep no more...

As part of the weekend escape to the Big Apple we went to see the acclaimed show Sleep No More that has been running for the last few months on the west side on Manhattan. I have to admit I'm not usually an avid theatre follower, but an article over on io9 last year caught my attention. The show just sounded outright weird...and I am a sucker for outright weird...

Sleep no More defies easy categorization. It's loosely Macbeth, It's part performance, part installation, part dance. It allows, nay encourages, the audience to make their own experience out of it, and is, as advertised, just outright weird. It was also an amazing experience, and one I'm not likely to forget in a hurry.

The event is played out across six floors of a fictional hotel, although it's a hotel only in name as you soon discover its halls are now home to a myriad of strange sets. You discover a graveyard, a hedge maze, a sanitarium, a bar, a street, a banquet hall and various royal quarters, all loosely inspired by a 1920's aesthetic. Each carefully constructed, and brilliantly lit, all with a bizarre feel to them as if you are navigating a strange, presumably psychotic dreamscape...and I do mean navigate, because here the audience is part of the performance.

There are two rules, the audience are all masked in identical white masks, and you aren't allowed to speak. The silence is the golden rule.

Other than that you are generally free to wander as you please. You can rifle through desks, read notes, even eat some of the candy found behind a store counter, should you dare...you can get as close to the action as you care to, regardless of the violence or passion of the scene, and there is plenty of passion and violence on the menu...

The events of the play continue simultaneously regardless of what or where you are. The performers move around playing out the scenes, and act as if the masked audience do not exist. They just carry on regardless.

With its Hitchcock references and art-deco splendor, brilliantly atmospheric lightingwonderfully period soundtrack (which is piped into each location and creates a soundtrack that impressively seems to move with you), it offers an amazing level of immersion that is hard to compare.

If you were continually in the wrong place at the wrong time you could, in theory, miss everything, although the meticulous choreography and movement of the cast is clearly designed to draw the audience in to key events, you just won't see all of them in a single performance.

It was almost like being a silent side character in an adventure game, where the plot barrels along, with pivotal moments often happening simultaneously, whether you are paying attention or not. You are not going to change the fate of any of the characters here...

The Wired review talked a lot about that element, but for me, while there clearly was some similarity to gaming, you do after all get to interact with the surroundings in a way not usually found in theater (and atmosphere wise think of a live action Amnesia, just without the eventual monsters, and the concept is reminiscent of The Last Express), for me, this was a very different type of experience.

Mainly because it was an oddly voyeuristic experience. The combination of the masks and the required silence on behalf of the audience combine to allow a strange form of role play - that of an observer, almost like a spirit who has some inherent, but undefined, interest in the outcome of the machinations of these characters. The experience is in the not knowing, the lack of context makes the events all the more compelling because you know they are part of something (although a working knowledge of the play clearly helps), and for me that all added to the sense of mystery. 

It did however make me think about the storytelling, and how they were stringing the experience together as they went. It was particularly interesting to see how the actors functioned as anchors for the audience, superbly drawing attention to themselves when required, and at other times dispersing crowds almost without you realizing. 

The show has been extended through March 10th so there is still a chance to catch it if you are in New York. It's well worth it...you certainly won't forget it in a hurry...

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AmandaP said...

That sounds truly strange. Doesn't sound like something that tours unfortunately :( Some days i really wished I lived in one of those cool bigger cities!

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