Sleep No More (2011 play)

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Sleep No More
Sleep No More mask.jpg
One of the audience masks used in the production.
Written by Punchdrunk (directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle)
Date premiered March 7, 2011 (2011-03-07)
Place premiered 530 West 27th Street, New York City
 United States
Original language English
Official site

Sleep No More is the New York City production of a site-specific, interactive work of theatre created by British theatre company Punchdrunk, based on their original 2003 London incarnation (at the Beafoy Building), their Brookline, Massachusetts 2009 collaboration with Boston's American Repertory Theatre (at the Old Lincoln School), and William Shakespeare's Macbeth. The company reinvented Sleep No More as a co-production with Emursive, and began performances on March 7, 2011. Sleep No More won the 2011 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience and won Punchdrunk special citations at the 2011 Obie Awards for design and choreography.

Sleep No More adapts the story of Macbeth, deprived of all spoken dialogue and set primarily in a dimly-lit, 1930s-era establishment called the "McKittrick Hotel": the website of which claims it has been recently "restored" but is actually a block of warehouses in Manhattan, transformed into a hotel-like performance space. Sleep No More's presentational form is considered promenade theatre, in which the audience walks at their own pace through a variety of theatrically designed rooms, as well as environmental theatre, in which the physical location, rather than being a traditional playhouse, is an imitation of the actual setting.

Contrary to what some believe, Sleep No More is not any kind of haunted attraction. However, it should be noted that in their exploration, audience members can come upon instances of full nudity, and bright lights (including strobe lights), lasers, fog, and haze. The email that guests receive upon their impending experience does note that the audience might experience "intense psychological situations" [1]


A prop letter from Macbeth to the Lady Macbeth

Sleep No More is set in a building with five floors of theatrical action, putatively called the McKittrick Hotel, though with many rooms and features not normally associated with hotels. Various papers, pamphlets and menus inside the performance space and at the building's dining establishments identify the indoor setting as the fictitious town of Gallow Green, Glamis, Forfar, Scotland.

The five visitable floors consist of, from the top down:

  • Floor 5 – The King James Sanitarium: an antiquated lunatic asylum devoid of patients, including cots, bathtubs, doctor's and nurse's offices, a padded cell, an operating theater, a gated forest with a small hut, and smaller rooms filled with patient records and samples;
  • Floor 4 – The High Street of Gallow Green: featuring a two-room apartment and shops belonging to a taxidermist, tailor, mortician, and confectioner, a speakeasy, a detective agency, and a dilapidated replica of the second floor's Manderley Bar;
  • Floor 3 – Residences of Gallow Green: the Macduff family flat, (including children's bedrooms), the Macbeth bedroom, a cemetery, a statue garden, and indoor courtyards;
  • Floor 2 – The McKittrick Hotel: the lobby of the fictitious hotel, and business offices. It also contains the hotel's Manderley Bar, where the audience begins their journey, boarding a freight elevator to the other floors.
  • Floor 1 and the ground floor are a grand ballroom and its mezzanine level, with smaller rooms surrounding the ballroom floor and balcony, including a sleeping quarters, a small crypt, and a stage, where the finale takes place.

The actors and their environment all adopt the dress, decor, and aesthetic style of the late 1930s, inspired by the shadowy and anxious atmosphere of film noir. The production "leads its audience on a merry, macabre chase up and down stairs, and through minimally illuminated, furniture-cluttered rooms and corridors."[2]

Sleep No More tells the story of Macbeth, though the audience is given no programme and there is no speaking from either the actors or audience. The actors (unlike the audience members) wear no masks and perform in passionate, silent, group settings; solitary scenes; and, sometimes, choreographed dances. Audience members are instructed to remain silent and masked at all times[3] once they have boarded the hotel's elevator up until the time they return to the Manderley Bar; however, they may move freely at their own leisure for up to three hours, choosing where to go and what to see, so that everyone’s journey is unique; they may also exit the premises at any point.[4] Audience members may thus follow one or any of the actors throughout the performance, or they may independently explore the many rooms of the building; in groups or alone. The audience is also encouraged to investigate by opening drawers, examining the numerous written diaries, letters, and other props found throughout the set. Recorded music, either period (such as tunes by Peggy Lee or Glenn Miller), or orchestral (mostly consisting of Bernard Herrmann's scores to Alfred Hitchcock films) plays steadily throughout the entire building at all times. Other sound effects, such as thunderclaps or bells, happen simultaneously on most floors as well, though with different volumes relative to the area of the performance where the sounds originate. (A bell heard most clearly in the second floor hotel lobby, for example, can simultaneously be heard in the fifth floor asylum, albeit much fainter.)

The McKittrick Hotel[edit]

Sleep No More takes place at the fictional McKittrick Hotel, a reference to the film Vertigo (the McKittrick's fully functional Manderley Bar is a reference to another Hitchcock film, Rebecca). According to the fictitious description on its official website, the hotel was completed in 1939 and "intended to be New York City's finest and most decadent luxury hotel." The site goes on to explain that "six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public" until it was restored and reinvented by Punchdrunk and Emursive.[5]

The McKittrick Hotel is actually three adjoining warehouses in Chelsea's gallery district at 530 West 27th Street. The address is the former home of megaclubs Twilo, Spirit, Guesthouse, Home, Bed and more. The 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) space has been transformed by Punchdrunk into "some 100 rooms and environments, including a spooky hospital, mossy garden and bloody bedroom."[6]

Critical response[edit]

Critics have compared the production to other works from a wide range of media, with New York Magazine’s Scott Brown referencing BioShock, Lost, Inception, and M. C. Escher, and The New York Times Ben Brantley referencing Stanley Kubrick, Joseph Cornell, David Lynch and Disney's Haunted Mansion.[3] The production is mostly wordless, prompting The New Yorker’s Hilton Als to write: "Because language is abandoned outside the lounge, we’re forced to imagine it, or to make narrative cohesion of events that are unfolding right before our eyes. We can only watch as the performers reduce theatre to its rudiments: bodies moving in space. Stripped of what we usually expect of a theatrical performance, we’re drawn more and more to the panic the piece incites, and the anxiety that keeps us moving from floor to floor."[7]

The show has received positive reviews in several publications including, The New York Times,[2] New York Magazine,[3] The New York Post,[8] and Time Out New York,[9] as well as a critical essay in The New Yorker and the cover article of the August 2011 Vanity Fair.[10]


  1. ^ "Guest Advisement for Sleep No More"
  2. ^ a b "Shakespeare Slept Here, Albeit Fitfully", New York Times, April 13, 2011
  3. ^ a b c "The Freakily Immersive Experience of Sleep No More", New York Magazine, April 15, 2011
  4. ^ "Official Sleep No More web site". Emursive Productions. Retrieved 2011-08-23. 
  5. ^ "Hotel History". Retrieved 2011-12-21. 
  6. ^ "Stage Is Set. Ready for Your Part?", The New York Times, March 16, 2011
  7. ^ "Shadow and Act", The New Yorker, May 02, 2011
  8. ^ "Something Wickedly Good", The New York Post, April 13, 2011
  9. ^ "Theatre Review: Sleep No More", Time Out New York, April 15, 2011
  10. ^ "Hollywood Is Her Oyster", Vanity Fair, July 05, 2011