The “Sleep No More” Banner Theater Review
By Amanda Celek
“Sleep No More,” an interactive theatrical experience was held in three abandoned warehouses on West 27th Street in busy New York City. It uses the actions portrayed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The British company “Punchdrunk” and directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle dreamt up a performance that is the ultimate catalyst for messing with your mind during an invasion of private lives and horrific deaths.
While walking down the busy streets of New York City’s well known West Side, nothing other than a faded McKittrick sign and a line of people crowding outside of the doors revealed the shows location. Guests were escorted into an old styled elevator accompanied by a man dressed in full hotel uniform. He loudly entertained, while pushing assigned floor buttons. Guests suddenly arrived at a time capsule of the 1930s. The old beautiful decor was spread through the hallways to truly give an authentic feeling. Once outside the elevator, everyone enjoyed the different choices provided to them right before the show began.
We had the choice of including dinner at The Heath, grabbing drinks at the Manderley Bar, or at the Gallow Green Rooftop bar before heading to the show. Although not complimentary to the $80.00 price of “Sleep No More,” we decided to take our chances with prices and endure the steep costs.
The restaurant was decorated as an old style train cart. The dim lighting, foggy appearance, and essence of old leather and bourbon filled the air. As much of the decor was beautiful, there was also a touch of creepy. Taxidermy wolves and crows were placed throughout the room.
From a candle lit table, we could view the stage. A band dressed in classic wardrobe played romantic melodies, while the singer belted out notes setting the tone and the mood for the evening. Although the ambiance of the restaurant perfectly delivered, the food fell short of expectations. The small portioned fancy choices weren’t tasty and were overpriced. Although the waiters were professional and helped to explain different plates, the outcome wasn’t great.
Appetizers of buffalo cheese with chives served along with crackers and small pastry puff wrapped sausage bites were bland. The main course, a somewhat tasteful chicken pot pie meant for two turned out to be more sized for one instead. The glasses of Pinot-Grigio were more filling than the actual food. Leaving the restaurant for the show, we felt dissatisfied by the loss in our wallets and hunger in our stomachs.
Eager to finally see the highly acclaimed show, we were signaled to form a line. We patiently waited while they divided us into smaller groups to be allowed to enter. While waiting, I spoke to others on line and learned a vast variety of individuals, from tourists who have seen previous shows by “Punchdrunk,” to veterans of this particular show who have seen it a handful of times, to, of course, first time goers. Upon reentering the hotel, a character demanded that the group take these Venetian carnival-style white beak mask and keep them on our faces for the entire show.
She informed us that we were to remain anonymous throughout the show. It was asked of us that we not utter a word during the two and a half hours we were given to follow the characters of our choice from room to room. Photography was also prohibited and anyone who would go against these instructions would be removed by security during the show.
The theatergoers were however encouraged to explore rooms to gain full experience of the show. After all was said, playing cards were handed to each person that placed them in numbered groups for entry to the show and after awaiting anxiously it was showtime.
The idea is, once you’re let loose on one of the six floors of the hotel, you poke around and gather clues in various rooms, all themed differently, from homelike bedrooms and bathrooms to more uncommon rooms, such as a hospital, or a cemetery. The eerie dim lighting and suspenseful old records served to deliver era authenticity. Clues could be found on the surface of desks, and bar tops, while others were hidden away in drawers, trunks and bookcases. Rummaging through belongings gave a feel of what it would be like to be an investigator.
Guests were allowed to pick a single character to pursue for however long they wanted, with the choice of switching at any time. They perform silently while letting their lyrical and ballet dance styles speak for them.
The casts’ wardrobe varied from evening styled clothing, skimpy lingerie, to nothing at all. Whether the actions were getting undressed, making love, fighting and killing one another, or simply the choreographed dances, all acts were perfectly executed. Their execution entertained the groups who crowded the ballrooms to watch in guilty enjoyment.
A downside of the theatrics were that certain aspects could have been played out better. As characters moved through the hotel, crowds chased after them while pushing and elbowing each other to get a better view of the sex and violence. Unfortunately the large amount of people made the experience slightly uncomfortable. At times I chose not to follow certain characters because it got too chaotic and cluttered.
The summertime heat that suffocated the rooms made it tiring to run up and down the flights of stairs. It became very hot beneath the Venetian masks.
Overall the theatrical experience was overwhelming and spectacular all at once. This type of haunted house for adults delivered Shakespeare’s murderous thoughts with Hitchcock’s mysterious actions. It was an evening in theatrical hell.