Theatre I need to tell you about an experience I had. But I don’t know where to begin. Does it even have a beginning? It has a dramatic ending, but where is the line between my life before Sleep No More and my experience at the McKittrick Hotel?
When friends or colleagues or acquaintances ask for theatre recommendations, I try to find good fits. Not everyone is going to like non-narrative drama in site-specific locations. Not everyone is going to like text-based dramas done on mainstages. I’m just glad when people ask for theatre recommendations at all.
Those who venture to New York, though, often feel like a requirement of a visit to the Big Apple is a Broadway show. And I can’t argue with that. It’s the city that still makes it feel like you are missing out if you don’t attend the theatre. Where you can be walking along a dozen streets that intersect with Broadway and be unable to move for crowds spilling out of theatres.
Broadway shows are still tricky to recommend. Do you want a musical? An uplifting one or a subversive one? A new show or an institution? Do you maybe want to see a play instead? Does it have to have a famous-famous person in it or is a Broadway-famous person enough? Do you want to get cheap tickets from the booth in Times Square or are you happy to pay Premium prices?
With all these questions, maybe I’m not the right person to ask.
I do have an answer now, though. If you ask me about a not-to-miss show in New York. The answer is Sleep No More.
And if I describe it, well – let me describe it. It’s part-Shakespeare riff, part-Hitchcock homage. It’s non-narrative but you can feel the story in your bones. It’s not just theatre, it’s an experience. And I recommend it because it’s unlike anything else you have ever experienced in live performance.
It’s a warehouse in the Meat Packing District of Manhattan. No, it’s a “renovated” hotel. It’s five stories. It’s spooky rooms and dark corridors. It’s creepy hospital rooms and abandoned bars. It’s an ensemble of actors and dancers who you might encounter in a moment that might easily be described as a blood orgy or, one-on-one, in a tiny room, a phone booth or a crowded bathroom.
You check in and then your experience is different than everyone else’s experience. You are let loose in the McKittrick Hotel. You can explore the space. You can open drawers and cupboards. You can read letters and move furniture. One minute a female actor reclines across you, the next a male actor is whispering a secret in your ear.
Then you’re in a ballroom watching exquisite dancing. Or a feast. Or an execution.
And all from behind a mask. The audience are all masked. And these masks imbue you with anonymity and a strength to immerse yourself into this noir world, with tinges of Macbeth.
I went in knowing that I wanted to throw myself into every opportunity. The friend who went with me was terrified by the whole notion of it. Each of us came out changed by the experience. Me, for finally getting to experience the rich world of a Punchdrunk show, and my friend feeling thrilled to have had a night that redefined what theatre could be for her.
And our experiences of Sleep No More couldn’t have been more different.
You want to know what show to see in New York? Sleep No More. Because no one will ever see the show you’ve seen and you’ll never forget it.
You can follow Keith on Twitter @keithgow. His Doctor Who show, Who Are You Supposed to Be?, is playing at Adelaide Fringe in March 2015.
Photo credited to Robin Roemer.