Thursday, June 23, 2011

Innocent Sleep

The Riverside Shakespeare
Still it cried "Sleep no more!" to all the house.
"Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more."

- Macbeth II.ii.54-56

I love Shakespeare. Truly, deeply, tattoo the words on my skin, love. And the reason I love Shakespeare so much is his language. So if you were to tell me that my favorite theatrical production of Macbeth would be one in which I heard fewer than ten lines spoken, I would have thought you mad.

Then I attended Punchdrunk's performance of Sleep No More.

Sleep No More  is a site-specific immersive theatre production of Macbeth currently being staged in Chelsea. Three abandoned warehouses have been transformed into the McKittrick Hotel, and the Manderley nightclub, and the performance takes place throughout the hotel.

When you enter, you are given a mask, which you wear during the entirety of the performance. You are asked not to speak or to interact with the performers (though they may interact with you - MacDuff was leading Birnam Wood to Dunsinane whether I was standing there or not) and told to find your own path through the hotel.

Which means that even more than usual, every performance is different. You wander through rooms that may or may not have performers in them. There are scenes I know I did not see, and set pieces I saw more than once. Different doors open or close at various times. (One may, gentle reader, if one is as under the influence of the play as my companion and I were, inadvertantly open the door that leads to the men's bathroom.)

The staging is extraordinary. You can interact with the sets - eat candy in the apothecary's, dip your hands in the bloodstained bathtub, read Macbeth's love letters to his wife. The production uses scent, sound, and temperature to enhance the performance. At one point, all of the ticking clocks (so perfect in a play as haunted by time as Macbeth is) went silent. It was one of the most transcendent moments of theatre I have ever experienced.

Because there is so little speech in the performance, and so much variety in how it might be experienced, watching Sleep No More is like watching Macbeth stripped down to its emotions. As lush and rich as the experience of attending was, it was also incredibly visceral. I highly recommend attending - the run has been extended through September, and this is the sort of performance that is worth traveling to see if that is at all possible for you. I plan on going back.