Sleep No More

Sleep No More

Sleep No More

On Sunday we went to see “Sleep No More”. Here is what I knew going in:

  • It isn’t a traditional play on a stage but the action is happening in different rooms and you have to follow the actors around.
  • The same scenes are played out three times so you can follow different actors each time.
  • It is based on Macbeth.
  • The are no words, only acting.
  • It started in New York and came to Shanghai last year.
  • It is very popular and tickets are sold out months in advance.

Pearl managed to get us tickets and because of a system mix-up we even got VIP tickets. That meant we didn’t have to wait outside but could go straight in, very much appreciated in that heat. The location is a hotel with 4 floors, especially designed for sleep no more. Each person has to wear a mask the entire time, I assume so you could tell who belongs in the play (the ones without masks).

Then we were split into smaller groups through playing cards. The first room was a cool bar where you could get drinks until your group is called. From the bar you go to an elevator which stopped at different floors and you randomly get assigned to start somewhere. There are many different rooms and things happening, so you are encouraged to explore on your own and not stick with a group (it’s pretty dark, there are a lot of people and everyone is wearing the same mask so you’ll get split up sooner or later anyways).

Thorben and I had very different opinions of the show. To sum it up, I hated it, he loved it. If you want to know more, here are our reviews.

Marina’s review:

I was really excited to see the show, I think the concept of a non-traditional play is cool and they put a lot of effort into the (dark and creepy) location. There was a lot of attention to detail and the actors where also good. BUT … Overall, I really did not like it and found the whole experience really disturbing. During the three hours of being there I could not get a grip on the story at all. It was not announced or somehow indicated when the show was starting over again so that made it impossible for me to try to get a sense of what was happening and how it could possibly fit together. I only noticed the second, or maybe at that point, third round had started because I saw the same scene twice. A couple times when I tried to follow a specific character they would disappear leaving me wandering around, sometimes by myself, until I found something else happening.

Neither the scenes by themselves nor put together made any sense to me, even with the knowledge that this was somehow supposed to be Macbeth. To me it felt like one big random nightmare made out of unrelated, crazy scenes. After a while I just kept wishing for it to be over so I could leave that creepy place. Knowing that we had three rounds I tried to stick to the same character for a while, hoping to see some sort of story line or how it tied into the other scenes I had seen … but nothing.

There were some loud fights, blood curling screaming, a dead guy on a bed, lots people jerking around possessed in various locations, a girl running to a bathtub and then starting to cry inside it, a dinner that turned into everyone making out, a kind of orgy, some sort of insane rave with strobe lights, a bloody baby (being sacrificed?) and a guy with a goat mask, a wedding, a lady singing in a bar and then everyone started acting possessed after drinking from a bottle with a snake in it, a detective trying to solve some sort of riddle and then kissing the witness(?) who than ran away, a lady bathing a man and then starting to freak out, scream and jerk around uncontrollably on a bed … and finally another dinner where a guy gets hanged, so I guess that he was Macbeth?

The whole experience left me deeply disturbed, disappointed and angry: what is the point, who would enjoy that and how is anyone supposed to get that?!

At least the title is very fitting because sleep no more is definitely what happened to me Sunday night. Even after going to a friends good bye party for a few hours and watching Pitch Perfect (something light and happy) I could not shake that uneasy feeling I had since the performance or get the creepy images and screams out of my head. Just thinking and writing about it makes me feel anxious and uncomfortable again.

If you do want to go after reading what Thorben wrote (apparently he is more artsy than me) I suggest wearing comfortable, sturdy shoes because you will be standing and walking and sometimes running up 3 flights of stairs for three hours. Also, people are not afraid to shove you out of the way and step on your toes to run after a character leaving a room, so maybe also bring some elbow and knee pads.

Thorben’s review

Sleep no more was by far the coolest theater event performance I’ve been to. I did not know anything else about it besides what Marina described before. When they let us in the hotel, you had to find your way through a labyrinth of velvet covered walls and the first stop was this amazing 1930’s jazz bar. Red velvet everywhere, almost no lights, a singer with a smoky voice, and a host in a white tux. Even the microphone looked like almost a hundred years old – the perfect illusion.

In the bar we were given a playing card – it was a five of diamonds for me – and grouped by number. Group by group we were lead into the actual hotel. The first stop was an elevator and the host gave everyone a mask and some instructions: You are to wear this mask at all times, you are not to talk, make your own way through the play.

The elevator stopped a few times and I started on the top floor – the performance had already started. I found myself in something that looked like a early twentieth century city. Dark brick walls, dim lights, a detective agency that looked right out of a film noire, a taxidermist, and a bar with bright flashing lights. There was no real music, just noise. It was incredibly loud and felt so out of place from this carefully constructed illusion before.

Inside: People covered in blood, hanging from the ceiling, jumping around, wearing goat heads, throwing a plastic doll around, screaming. And a bunch of frightened spectators in their plastic masks with sensory overload not knowing what to do next. When it was over, every actor RAN away into different directions. It was up to you to choose whom to follow.

I followed what I thought was one of the witches into her lair. And it really felt like a witch’s lair. There were herbs, animal hides and skeletons, glasses, pots, and stoves everywhere. IT SMELLED like a witch’s lair. And there she was, climbing on ropes over our heads, completely ecstatic, looking like she was having a seizure. It was up to you to decide how much time you wanted to spend there. I looked around, found some recipes for poison, some ingredients, some letters in Chinese and English in an old fashioned handwriting, some scraps of the story.

And this is how the whole performance went down: There were four huge floors with different settings. A graveyard, a hotel lobby, a taxidermist, a western-style bar, a witches lair, a smuggler’s cave, a forest, a post office and much more. Every location smelled different. Smelled like it was supposed to smell! I was completely immersed in every room. In the detective office I looked for hints for the murders, I played cards and billiard with the bar keep in the western bar, I found a smugglers cave, I witnessed murders and an execution, creepy prophecies and attended a burial with reincarnation. In between I spent around 30 minutes just walking around every floor to create a mental map of the place to decide what to do next.

The actors interacted with you if you followed them for a while. They danced with you, whispered in your ear or found some other way to make you part of their performance. It was by far one of the most entertaining pieces I have witnessed in my life. Never before was I so immersed in a performance – the smells, the sounds, the costumes, everything was just right. The story? You had to look for it. Literally. You could not just follow the story by following the actors. You had to look for scraps of paper, notes and other hints. And even if you did: the three iterations were not enough to tell you everything.

The whole place was too huge, there were too many things happening at the same time. Too many threads of the story line going on in parallel. For me it wasn’t about the story anyway. All I know is that I’ll be going again! But looks like I’ll be going alone 🙂


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