Check into the newly opened McKittrick Hotel at your own risk, for what’s fair is foul for sure in Punchdrunk’s latest interactive environmental theatrical experience, Sleep No More, now playing in a vast and intricately decorated converted warehouse space in Chelsea through June 4th. The piece, which is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with a Hitchcock-inspired cinematic twist, does not require a previous knowledge of its source material, though a basic knowledge of the play may offer rewards. It’s a standalone sensory immersion of sorts that’s likely to leave a deep impression.
The “experience” – because there’s no fixed narrative through line – is difficult to encapsulate. What I experienced will be entirely unlike what any other hotel guest will encounter; the order of events, items seen, and spaces breached will be unique. As a result, unlike others of my reviews, I’ll shed the anonymity of assessing “an audience’s” likely response and revert to the first person. After all, I can only tell what I saw.
Of course, there are a few constants to the experience. After checking bags and coats, each audience member is handed a numbered playing card and directed to the hotel bar, the Manderley, where tasty signature cocktails are available prior to entry. Numbers are called – for the most part parties are split up upon entering the playing space – and audience members are given a few directions.
Each audience member must be masked for the entire duration of the event; the masks are a bit like Ghostface masks from the Scream franchise, only with the mouth rotated upward for easier breathing. Audience members must remain silent throughout unless directed to speak. And no cell phones or photography are allowed.
Once masked, audience members are herded onto a large elevator for a short time and further split up. Reaching the top floor, the porter calls “everybody out” before directing a lone wanderer off into the darkness. The audience titters, but of course we know we’re all in for the same treatment. After all, as we’re soon told, fortune favors the bold.
Having entered the space, it soon becomes apparent that this will be an entirely self-guided journey. There are no directives or mandates as to which course must be taken. After wandering through a number of rooms, I soon found myself – back in the bar? Only after a quick glance, it became apparent that I was in a demented, deserted replica of the Manderley, this time eerily lit, with a dramatic horror flick soundscape.
A table was already drenched in blood; the blood, upon close inspection, smelled like chocolate. Soon, a dark, elusive woman in a fine red dress – Hecate, looking like a glamorous Hitchcock beauty – appeared in the space. Just then, in one corner of the room, a tower of upturned chairs glowed brightly with an ominous blue light. After a moment, the woman took a seat at a red-clothed table, uncovering a metal plate upon which was a slab of bloody red meat. Taking delicate, pensive bites, she ate the meat slowly and carefully, finding within one bite a ring, which she subsequently slipped on an audience member’s finger.
The lights shifted again, and the woman in red began to lipsynch to a slowed-down, trancelike version of Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is,” her hands shaking with the final titular refrains as she slinked off the stage back into darkness. Then – she grabbed my hand and led me through a hallway to a locked door. “Wait here,” she whispered, “I have something for you.”
A split second later, Hecate returned, guiding me by the hand through the door, which she shut to the remaining audience members. Staring straight in my eyes, she slipped a small glass up to my lips and bade me drink it before telling me a strange, fairy tale-like story, beseeching that I find a lost item, and guiding me through another door, back into the McKittrick’s hallways, my heart pounding in my chest like a drum.