Sleep No More is like no other play you’ve ever seen or participated in. It is an adaptation of Macbeth, but instead of taking place on a stage with an audience sitting dutifully in its seats, it takes place in a six story warehouse which participants are free to roam at their leisure. It’s high art which allows the audience the ability to wander around like they’re in a living video game.
Having heard about Sleep No More for years, when I found myself in New York, I took the opportunity to go see the show. Even the exterior of the “theater” proclaims the show’s uniqueness. There is no grand signage, no flashing lights, just black doors and security.
The inside was dim, and a clerk dressed like Warren G. Harding was still president handed me my “room key.” The room key was in fact a playing card, an eight of hearts. The clerk told me to take the stairs to my right.
The stairs were absolutely dark. I had to feel my way forward, the railing my only guide. The stairs ended in a hall, or what I thought might be a hall. It was difficult to tell, as it was still pitch black. I could not escape the sensation that someone or something would, at any moment, reach out to grab me. Every terrible thing I’d seen at every haunted house I’d ever been to rose in my mind to fill the dark. I lurched forward.
The passageway twisted and turned. Soon, I heard music. Jazz. And there was light! Light at last. And I found myself in what looked like a speakeasy. A man with a purring British accent mounted the stage to encourage us all to drink some absinthe, introduce his giggling fiancee who looked like she’d been poured into her dress, and tell us that anyone with room keys four, five, or six should move to the right.
I bought some absinthe, and awaited the calling of my key. I didn’t have to wait long.
The fiancee ushered me and eight others into another room, and gave us all masks. We were told there were two rules in Sleep No More. You must say nothing, and always wear your mask.
We were loaded into a freight elevator like cattle, and went up.
I was released into what appeared to be a mental hospital. Creaking beds, each with a medical chart beside it, awaited patients. Except for one, which was occupied by a woman in a bathrobe covered in blood. She was not wearing a mask.
A nurse arrived and took the bloody woman to a room filled with bathtubs. She disrobed, and began to wash the blood away.
The next two hours were spent chasing characters through the dark and shadowy halls of the warehouse. I saw a nurse in a surgical theater, writhing as though she was possessed. I got lost in a candy store stacked from floor to ceiling with jars of goodies, any of which I could open and eat from, if I dared. I watched a man, choke another man to death with a pillow. I was so close I could see the sweat dribble down his face.
Later, men came to carry the body away in a sort of funeral procession. I scampered to get in front of it. I sliced open my finger, and I was so preoccupied with watching the death march that I didn’t notice it until I was bleeding through my pants.
And so I blooded myself at Macbeth. Perhaps that is the strongest recommendation I can make for Sleep No More. It is so engrossing, so absorbing, and so immersive, you won’t notice you cut yourself until you’re bleeding through.
Behold the greatness of Sleep No More here.
For readers of Geek & Sundry, it is worth seeing because it is theater with the exploratory ethos of gaming. No one at Sleep No More tells you where to go or what to see. You are as free as Link exploring Hyrule, or a band of adventurers journeying across the Forgotten Realms.
Sleep No More is something new, and there’s gaming in its blood.