Sleep No More

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

~T. E. Lawrence

NYC Downtown by Xavier Rey

NYC Downtown by Xavier Rey

You hear a low, feral growl and despite the stiffening heat of the room, a small shiver runs down your spine. For a moment, you wish you had worn your coat. A sharp crack is heard and you refocus on the fight unfolding before you. The room is poorly lit but you’re close enough to notice the angry twitch of tendons and tense shoulders of the man in front of you. Without warning a deck of cards go flying into the air, one hitting you in the face, and you press yourself into the wall. Punches are thrown and blood is drawn but still you do nothing. It is only when the man, steel hammer in hand, raises his arm to bash in the skull of his unconscious friend, do you feel the need to scream rise up in your throat. But seconds before his arm comes down, his eyes flicker up and the need to scream is violently ripped from your throat. In that second he hadn’t looked at you, but through you. You remember: you’re just a ghost.

A few weeks ago I walked into English with Shakespeare’s “Othello” sitting on my desk. My reaction could have only be described as a pained groan. While I may have a great love for literature, when it comes to Shakespeare I am less then enthusiastic. And while I’d love to blame it on the near indecipherable old English, I’ll admit that it’s actually because of my misconceived perception that all of Shakespeare’s work would be a Romeo and Juliet style soap opera. I suppose this is where the adage “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” should come in because a few scenes into Othello I realized that I actually liked it. I couldn’t help but imagine Iago creeping in to the shadows at the end of the day with his dastardly evil plans, stroking his handlebar mustache. But to be honest, evil plans and mustaches aside, this isn’t the first time I’ve been swept off my feet by Shakespeare’s characters.

Last spring I embarked on a journey to New York City. By the end of my measly seven days of allotted time in the city, I was completely enamored with the lights, the energy, and the fast pace of the city.

I was devastatingly in love.

Though there are many highlights of my trip–venturing off on my own, walking the busy streets, navigating the subways–one of the most memorable things I did in New York was attending an Macbethean-based, off Broadway play.

Sleep No More, even the title is haunting.

To call Sleep No More (by Punchdrunk) just “a play”, is like calling Bill Gates just a rich person or Einstein just a mathematician. The sheer love that has been put into each painstaking detail of this macabre play is absolutely astounding. And believe me when I say that detail is everything in this.

Because Sleep No More isn’t just something you lounge around and watch with a bag of peanut M&M’s grasped tightly in one hand. No, Sleep No more is what people like to call “immersive theatre”.

It’s hard to explain what immersive theatre is to those who have not experienced it. But to the best of my ability, immersive theatre is where the actors break the fourth wall and the audience can interact their surroundings. In another words, you are no longer just voyeurs but a part of the cast itself. The “immersive theatre” of Sleep No More, and many other of Punchdrunk’s productions, is more than just that definition. It’s a feeling. It’s almost like the lost feeling you get the moment you wake up, right before dawn, and you don’t quite know where you are at first. As I said, it’s hard to explain.

Felix Barrett, the artistic director of Punchdrunk, explains the concept behind immersive theatre:

One thing that was mentioned in the video that I haven’t really gone in-depth about, is the detail that goes into Punchdrunk productions. Everything is complex and exact and the best part is, everything is hands on. If you happen to end up in the candy store, feel free to grab a licorice. If you see an unopened drawer, open it and see what awaits you inside. Perhaps it will be a letter from Lady Macbeth to her husband, perhaps it will be a bloody knife. Everything in this noir play is tangible and real: it will sharpen your senses and create a heightened awareness the entire one, or two, or three hours you are there. By the time it ends you won’t want to leave.

And that’s the catch isn’t it? When it’s over, you don’t want to leave. Instead, you want to run your hands over crumbling bricks as Macbeth screams into the night, shadowed by a statue of the Virgin Mary. Instead, you want to want to feel the slick of sweat trailing down your neck and the ache in your feet and the uncomfortable feeling of plastic sticking to your face. Because seeing Sleep No More once is not enough to see the entire play. Each time you go there will always be something different to see, even after your third, or fourth, or fifth performance.

Each person is given a mask and is asked "to remain absolutely silent and to wear [their] masks at all times."

Each person is given a mask and is asked “to remain absolutely silent and to wear [their] masks at all times.”

I walked out those doors that night in a daze and woke up the next morning not knowing if what had happened was real. The mask that I was required to wear and a black ‘x’ on my hand (signifying I was under 21) were the only things that reminded me that my dream was a reality. Because when you enter the world of Sleep No More you leave a part of yourself behind, creating a prolonged sense of yearning that will never stop calling to you until you return.

To visit Punchdrunk’s website click on here: Punchdrunk

To visit Sleep No More’s website click on here: Sleep No More

Special thanks to photographer Xavier Rey. See more of his work here: Xavier Rey Photography or here: Xavier Rey Deviantart


4 thoughts on “Sleep No More

  1. I like this piece a lot. It’s very descriptive, and I can tell you’re talking about something you care about. Well done.

  2. I sort of adore this and the vivid description and pictures. Our school is doing a production of Macbeth and we are basing it sort of around some of the guiding principles of Sleep No More, and the production is very interactive and the audience is in the middle of things. I loved your description of the show and I was very interested to hear a new perspective on it. We have talked about the show extensively during rehearsals and it is so cool to hear about it outside of the rehearsal space. I love the blog, great job.

    • Thanks for the compliments Carson, I’m glad that it managed to get you some more insight on Sleep No More. I hope your play goes well, let me know how it went when it’s over (send pictures)!

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