Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sleep No More

One other thing I meant to write about is the theatrical production Sleep No More, which we went to in New York last week. 

It is a loose retelling of Macbeth, set in a wonderful warren of spaces in an old warehouse in Chelsea. The building is converted into the "McKittrick Hotel", which supposedly closed just before the second world war and has never been touched since.  It is a remarkable stage spreading over five floors and a hundred rooms. 

You put on a mask, and then follow the actors or explore the space by yourself.  The feeling of anonymity is itself interesting and destabilizing, as you move through rooms with twenty or thirty other people, none of whom can be recognized. That alone makes it feel like a different world. 

There are moors and baths and ballrooms and candy shops and hospitals and bedrooms. You are enveloped by the space, and its mists, and the subtle lighting, and evocative music. 

There are cinematic crescendoes of sound, and incidentals, and distorted echoes of twenties hits and ballroom music. You explore rooms with letters left on tables, hotel lobbies, chapels, statues standing amidst rubble and ruins, and forests of white birch. You pass through secret passages concealed in closets. 

There are touches of influence from movies, too, especially Hitchcock's Rebecca and Vertigo. There is an Edwardian grandeur to many of the spaces, only enhanced when the actors pass through in turn-of-the-century finery.  

The whole warehouse is like an art installation. The actors move around and up and down the stairs as if the surrounding audience is barely there. Macbeth sits in a bathtub washing the blood off his hands. Lady Macduff is murdered. The Royal Court sits at table in dramatic flood-lit slow motion. Banquo gets ready for a night out in his suit and tails. There are set piece balls and more intimate dances between couples in jazz clubs and bars. 

And you finish by emerging into a turn of the century jazz club with live performances and absinthe punch. 

In short, it is immersive experience, not passive theater, and that is just fascinating. We've never seen anything quite like it, and it has lingered in our minds over the past week. 

G thinks it should be permanent, part of the New York experience. I agree.  It should run for years. 

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