Article from the New York Times:
Those pushy Macbeths may be backstabbing social climbers, but you must admit that their new digs are to die for. The Thane of Cawdor and his wife have moved into a deserted hotel in the hinterlands of the West 20s, and my dear, what they’ve done with the place. Don’t be surprised if it shows up soon on the cover of Architectural Digest, bloodstains and all.
Punchdrunk, a British site-specific theater company, has taken over three abandoned warehouses on West 27th Street to enact the sorry sights of the murderous Macbeths’ career in a movable orgy titled “Sleep No More.” And the resulting adventure in décor — a 1930s pleasure palace called the McKittrick — suggests what might have happened had Stanley Kubrick (of “Eyes Wide Shut” and “The Shining”) been asked to design the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, with that little old box maker Joseph Cornell as a consultant.
New Yorkers with fond memories of nights out in the era of theme-park clubs like Area and MK have the chance to relive their salad days with this production (if they can score tickets). But they should know that sentimentally partaking of any mood-altering substances is inadvisable.
An unimpaired sense of balance and depth perception is crucial to attending “Sleep No More,” which leads its audience on a merry, macabre chase up and down stairs, and through minimally illuminated, furniture-cluttered rooms and corridors. The creative team here has taken on the duties of messing with your head, which they do just as thoroughly as any artificial stimulant.
You’ll notice that so far I have not mentioned the name of the writer who immortalized Macbeth. Though the title of “Sleep No More” and much of its shadow of a plot do come from the compact tragedy that is a favorite of high school English classes, this is not the place to look for insights into Shakespeare. (For those, you would be better off checking out the current Cheek by Jowl or Theater for a New Audience productions of “Macbeth,” in which the emphasis is on interior worlds instead of the World of Interiors.)
But this largely wordless production, directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle (and designed by Mr. Barrett, Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns), is not without thought-churning aperçus. These have less to do with the comely dancers who act out the doomed paths of Macbeth and company than with those clumsy, anonymous lugs in white face masks who keep elbowing one another out of the way to get a better view of the sex and violence. That’s you and me, my fellow theatergoers.
You see, everyone who attends “Sleep No More” is required to wear (and keep on) a Venetian carnival-style mask. You are also asked not to utter a word during the two and a half hours you are given to follow the characters of your choice from room to room. But you are encouraged to poke around in corners and trunks and bookcases, and allowed to get as close as (in)decency permits to the lithe-bodied denizens of this chic spook house. (Just don’t touch them, though they may well reach out and touch you.)
“Sleep No More” is, in short, a voyeur’s delight, with all the creepy, shameful pleasures that entails. As conceived by Punchdrunk (which took a similar approach to an operatic version of “The Duchess of Malfi” in London last summer), this tale of regicide taps the same impulses that draw us to Agatha Christie mysteries and sensational tabloids, flavored with the snob appeal of biographies of self-destructive aristocrats.
The idea is once you’re let loose on one of the floors of the hotel, you pick out a single character and pursue him or her (though you can switch any time you want), as the performer runs, dances and vaults all over the place. Dressed in drop-dead, Deco-era evening clothes, scanty lingerie or nothing at all, these characters include the Macbeths (of course), Macduff and his wife (who is conspicuously pregnant), Duncan (the king) and various witches and hotel employees. (Because the roles are mostly double-cast, I am not mentioning individual performers, but they are all lissome enough to make the audience look slow and dumpy.)
These jaded figures can be found in bedrooms, bathrooms, ballrooms, hospital rooms and nurseries getting dressed and undressed, doing the foxtrot, making every kind of love, killing one another and washing off blood. (The Macbeth mansion has many bathtubs.) Choreographed by Ms. Doyle, these activities are executed with tense balletic virtuosity by neurotic, anguished and gymnastic creatures, who climb the walls (I mean literally) in moments of high stress.
The knockout set pieces (and the detail in every room is remarkable) include a painterly banquet scene and an unnerving black mass sequence led by three ambisexual witches. The lighting is ravishingly crepuscular. The mood-matching sound design includes period pop recordings (“Goodnight Children, Everywhere,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”), techno music (but only for the witches) and swoony, suspenseful Bernard Herrmann scores for Hitchcock movies.
References to Hitchcock — the McKittrick is a nod to “Vertigo” — abound. (A character named Mrs. Danvers, an allusion to the Hitchcock film “Rebecca,” was in an earlier and slightly less spectacular incarnation of “Sleep No More,” which I saw last year in Brookline, Mass.) That director was the ultimate master of making us feel complicit in film’s invasion of private lives and ugly deaths. And it seems to me that sense of guilty enjoyment, translated into theatrical terms, is a large part of what Punchdrunk is trying to elicit here.
It can make you feel kind of shabby, watching other audience members rifling through a suitcase that Lady Macduff has left on a bed or reading a letter on the desk in Duncan’s sitting room. (It’s a thank-you note from the socially correct Lady Macbeth.) That doesn’t mean that you won’t follow their leads once they’ve moved on. As an advertising slogan for a tabloid newspaper used to say, enquiring minds want to know.