Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sleep No More

Immersive theatre. What does that mean? All I knew going in was that it meant a lot of walking, mandatory coat check ('nothing hanging off your body', said the polite but insistent ushers) and an ID inspection at the entrance queue. The rest was a weird but thrilling surprise.

Sleep No More is an immersive theatre production from a genius company called Punchdrunk. Imagine if the team from Inception put up a production of the Scottish Play set in a haunted house that was also somehow a hotel and hospital. Then imagine that they replaced all the dialogue with contemporary dance but somehow still managed to keep the profound Shakespearean energy.

Wearing a Venetian mask that was soon damp with sweat, I wandered overheated through several levels of rooms set up like Joseph Cornell boxes, rifling through desk drawers and damp letters and thimbles made of dirty sugar. I tried to get my bearings while keeping track of my scarf, my hat, my 'room key' and my coat check tag, not to mention my mother and my aunt. It was eerie and quiet at first, shuffling round the house with the other masked zombies. Then we started to stumble into actors and things got more exciting, although no less confusing.

You really have to know your Macbeth to get the scenes, and even then you can still miss a lot. Going from overheard conversation, we seemed to have missed the murders of King Duncan and Lady Macduff. We couldn't quite manage to see the final battle with Macduff, although we did see Macbeth grab one of the girls from the audience and haul her away. (He was covered in blood; I hope she wasn't wearing anything expensive.) And those are the bits I know we missed. We did catch the banquet with Banquo's ghost (in super slow motion!), Birnham Wood coming to Dunsinane, and a great extended post-murder scene involving a bathtub (warning: male nudity!), some rather brusque cuddles, and Lady Macbeth dancing furiously around a lot of furniture.

There were other scenes that didn't seem to have anything to do with the play--the program I picked up after the show said each actor had their own character arc, which played through three times over. I saw a nurse dally with a strapping young man who fed her whiskey out of highly suspicious bottles; that same nurse later performed a fantastic convulsive dance scene in what looked like an operating theatre out of Arkham Asylum. And right before we finally left two hours later we saw a witch-like ritual that turned into a ballroom scene with some more great dancing, and that became a one-on-one Mortal Kombat-style pas-de-deux...I'm still not sure what that was about but it was amazing.

Still, it's not for everyone. There are definite mobility issues, and I was often frustrated by being too short to see. You also won't like it if you have a problem with crowds, enclosed spaces, dirt or if you're just easily spooked. Timid souls might want to go with a friend. Just check your inhibitions at the door, and make sure to wear easily recognisable clothes.

1 comment:

andrael said...

I only learned of the existence of this literally two days after I got home from New York. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sounds like it was awesome.