I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard so many ghost stories—they were almost seared into my memory—but I couldn’t wait to form my own and to obtain the actual thrill and rush that attending “Sleep No More” gives you. It was so much more. It premiered in early March 2011, and has been extended multiple times (its original end date was May 14, 2011 and it is still going on), so I had ample time to hear every story I could.
I entered the building, gave my name to the desk and received the playing card: an ace of diamonds that would allow me to enter with the first group of attendees. I instantly separated from my friends, a strategy we had decided upon on the train ride there. The elevator was having technical difficulties, so we were lead through a back entrance with our white masks on—our group resembled observant ghosts, which we soon would be in human form. I raced ahead of the others and ended up alone on a floor with no actors. It felt like a haunted house. I found myself in a room with baby dolls dangling from the ceiling. I still don’t know what happens on this floor. I never made it back.
Eventually more people trickled in, and I found myself observing a well-choreographed fight. I followed the bald woman who appeared to have run into a room with strobe lights and some form of orgy going on. I was shocked and doing everything I could to not get in the way while trying not to make a weird face, only remembering at the end that no one could see my reaction under my white, billed mask. I followed the same woman into an apothecary-like room with dried herbs hanging from the ceiling. We were alone and eventually locked eyes as she washed the blood off of her hands. She stood up. My heart was beating like never before. She walked up to me, stared into my eyes, and eventually grabbed my head so that we touched foreheads. She then silently walked away.
Punchdrunk, the theater company that produces “Sleep No More,” focuses on immersive experiences, and that’s exactly what this is. But a distinction needs to be made between this and a haunted house (especially this time of year). These are actors and professionals who know how to tell the story of Macbeth without words. They are acrobats. The way this is performed, closely and dramatically and quickly, makes you feel what the actors are feeling and provides a constant adrenaline rush.
I watched Macbeth kill his father and wash away the blood with his mother while nude in a bathtub, and the detective who figures out who done it. I then sprinted after every character I saw running away (be warned, they are all in amazing shape and run as fast as they can up and down too many flights of stairs). No one speaks—all of the action and plot is told through movement and costume change and whatever else the amazing actors give you while you try to find the best angle to see it all. I still feel like I missed so much of the play. It runs three times throughout the night, so you have a chance to see what you missed before, but there is still no way to see everything. Sharing the details on the walk home, I was told of the experiences that my friends had, and they were so different. There were scenes that I didn’t know existed, and personal experiences with actors while locked in a room together.
This is more than just a play and more than a haunted house. It’s an experience that you can’t get anywhere else—that of being an anonymous observer in silent action. It’s well worth the $80 ticket and, frankly, I’m surprised they don’t try to charge more. After all, you get a workout thrown in for free. Keep in mind that tickets still sell out a few weeks in advance and you only have until Feb. 5 (at least for this run) to catch “Sleep No More.” But there’s always a chance that demand will bring it back.
Want to learn more about the people and production behind "Sleep No More?" Olivia Aylmer talks to one of the producers and takes a behind the scenes look at the unique performance.