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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Sleep No More (and Tips on How to Enjoy It!)

September 19th, 2011

Matthew Oaks with audience members. Photo by Yaniv Schulman.


Britain’s Punchdrunk theater collective brings their immersive, voyeuristic spin on Shakespeare’s Macbeth to a New York warehouse transformed into a sprawling, decadent hotel.

“…a voyeur’s delight, with all the creepy, shameful pleasures that entails.” New York Times

“The thrilling, mind- bending new show … unlike any Macbeth you’ve ever seen.” New York Post

“The show infects your dreams.” New York Magazine

“Something wickedly wonderful this way comes … the most thoroughly original and provocative live entertainment in years.” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents: The hottest ticket of the year is equal parts adult spook house, violently expressive dance piece, puzzle box video game, wall-breaking mind trip and headfirst dive into Cinemax voyeurism (and, as a child of the 80’s, I mean that as a high compliment…remember that tingly “sneaking down to the TV while your parents are sleeping hoping to catch a glimpse of something illicit” feeling). Basically, you are given a mask and dropped into a dizzying six floor Hitchcock meets Macbeth “hotel”, able to go wherever you wish and follow whomever you wish, as performers careen, fling and strip their way through hallucinatory suggestions of the Shakespeare story. The experience is wonderfully disorienting right from the beginning — as you gleefully fumble through dark, twisting hallways just to get to the starting line — and beautifully realized, with drop dead gorgeous art direction and a cast of equally stunning, daredevil dancers. While it may not be traditional drama (you are likely to catch only portions of Macbeth’s “story” which may frustrate the most literal minded), the event is a waking dream, a half-lost wandering suddenly interrupted by memorably intense imagery.

Given the unusual quality of the show, here are a few hints to heighten your experience…

  • Photo by Yaniv Schulman.

    Go early. The show ends at the same time for everyone, but those who get in first have more time to see new things or figure out where certain characters are. Buy tickets for the first entry time and get in line early.

  • Be smart. The “action” basically loops hourly so, when you run across something you’ve seen before, try to push into new territory or use your sense of timing to go back and see new angles on something you loved.
  • Let go. I struggled with the sense that something “better” might be happening elsewhere, particularly when I was lost on a floor I couldn’t seem to get off of. However, that’s the experience. Sometimes being completely alone, without any other audience members or performers in sight, allows you to truly lose yourself as well.
  • Don’t cling. The set-up for the evening actually attempts to separate you from anyone you arrived with and I agree with this impulse. Because you are asked to not speak, my partner and I found it best to go where our whims took us without having to try to mime a discussion and decide together. Things happen quickly and you want to feel free to race down a hallway after someone when the impulse strikes. You’ll be surprised how often you find each other again, but with stories to share about what you saw.
  • Wear comfy shoes. There are tons of stairs and you will be running up and down them at times.
  • Brush up your Shakespeare. If you read a summary of Macbeth, you’ll have a better chance of catching references or knowing who someone is portraying — which can add to the depth of your experience.
  • Learn to love the crowd. If you are trying to follow a certain character, particularly one of the Macbeths, you won’t be alone. And you’ll likely get knocked over or elbowed in the ribs at least once by over-excited audience members wanting to keep up. I found that I naturally mixed it up; went against the grain when I started to feel pushed and rejoined the pack when a singular moment was in progress.
  • Don’t listen to me (or anyone else who has gone before). There are friends who will say “follow the hot bellboy” and, sure, he’s hot and he gets naked at some point but you will only end up missing what’s happening in your experience trying to replicate someone else’s. If you want to go again, you can do research online (people are mapping the show) and try to find the “awesome cemetery” or “the candy room” (two things my companion spoke about that I never stumbled upon) but let your first time be free of spoilers and free of expectations.
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