photos by mordicai
The fourth wall is a theatrical wall that separates the audience from the stage. In performance, the goal is to dissolve that wall by immersively drawing the audience into the performer’s stage experience.
Hidden in New York City is the best live performance show in town and that show, produced by British theater company Punchdrunk in collaboration with Emursive Productions is Sleep No More, which is way off Broadway and way, way out of the box. The show is expressed as a complete non-verbal performance that is loosely based on Macbeth.
For starters there is no auditorium per se, the “setting” of the performance is layered over the five floors of its performing space, otherwise known as the recently “revised” McKittrick Hotel. The audience is encouraged to freely wander from room to room and from floor to floor seeking out various stage settings (examine everything) and independently scattered Sleep performance bits, all woven together in a delicate mise en scene of living theatre.
As audiences enter into the world of Sleep No More, they are given masks to preserve their anonymity and discourage them from talking to friends and fellow audience members. The No Talking rule is carried forwards to the actors as well. Much of the theatrical action is as mime and as much aggressive gesture and physical acting as possible without the actors damaging themselves. There may be no talking, but the multiple sound tracks that echo through each set piece are stunning in their atmospheric presence. There’s nothing like being alone in a desolate ruin and hearing the booming thunder of a distant approaching storm. At any moment, you have expected to be greeted by the walking dead coming to meet with you for an unexpected visit.
To say that many solo and duet performance moments were “off the wall,” hardly begins to describe the pycho drama of the world of Sleep No More. The narrative is more what you make up and experience as you encounter the performers when you find them wandering around the building’s various floors. And each of those floors are all worlds unto themselves, composed of an abandon hospital ward, a children’s bedroom spooked beyond belief, a cemetery, a desolate crumbled ruin of a former brick building. And then there’s the ballroom where all the performers come together for a charming ballroom dance intermingled with its own bizarre psychodrama with one following the other.
As to following the Sleep No More’s narrative, that’s exactly the point of its performances The entire experience is self directed as you wander around its various settings, you’ll encounter various performers wander around finding or fighting off their personal demons. If you’re not sure what to do, follow any of the audience “parades” anywhere you find them and you’ve found the “show.” Do not expect to see everything within the performance as much of the action happens simultaneously as something going on at every moment on each floor. Just follow your instincts on whatever floor you’re on and enjoy the ride.
As you drift around the McKittrick Hotel, sometimes you find the performance, sometimes it finds you. In one instance, I stumbled onto a performance as I walked through a door and suddenly found myself facing the audience as I realized I was standing next to the performers who were seriously engaged in some no-verbal discourse. Opps. I quickly walked to the other side to have a better perspective.
Sleep No More is a show that stays with you long after its over. Its title may also hint as to what happens to your state of mind after seeing the show. Me thinks many an audience member has probably spent that night lying awake trying to figure out what the hell they just saw.
Wear good walking shoes – get there early – prepare to stay late, and check out every room and crowd scene you come across. Feel free to revisit any of the set pieces you previously saw, assuming you can find them again. If living theater is your cup of tea, then Sleep No More is good to the last drop.
Sleep No More
location: The McKittrick Hotel, 530 West 27th Street, New York, NY
running time: three hours, performances through September 3rd.
tickets: OvationTix at 866.811.4111 or http://www.sleepnomorenyc.com/tickets.htm