Sleep No More (New York)
Just past The High Line in Chelsea, Manhattan is The McKittrick Hotel — home to the infamous off-Broadway sensation known as Sleep No More. The show is produced by Emursive, created by Punchdrunk, and co-directed by Maxine Doyle and Felix Barrett. Set in the 1930s, Sleep No More tells the tragic tale of "Macbeth" in Hitchcock noir (often reminiscent of Rebecca and Vertigo). Audience members are referred to as "guests" of the hotel and are free to roam and explore as they please. With multiple characters and storylines to follow, the experience can vary from person to person as everything is ultimately up to the individual. My husband and I just spent a few days in New York to celebrate my 30th birthday, and Sleep No More was one of the bigger to-dos on our list. I had the pleasure of visiting The McKittrick Hotel when it first opened, and wanted him to experience it for himself.
Although there's a freedom to the show, you must remain silent at all times during the performances and are required to wear a white Venetian mask in order to distinguish yourself from the actors (referred to as "residents" of the hotel). I actually appreciate the mask...it allows me to fully take in what I'm seeing without worrying about my proximity to strangers. It makes me feel uninhibited...voyeuristic even. There's an element of protection there that lets me be bolder than I'd normally be. In a way, it was my Invisibility Cloak. I felt completely safe gallivanting around and searching for clues. Until one of the characters stared me dead in the eye...then I felt like Harry Potter under the Invisibility Cloak when Dumbledore looked right at him. They actually only acknowledge the audience during a few parts in the show, but it's always stunning to see them breaking the fourth wall.
Spoiler alert: The following contains detailed descriptions of my recent experiences and interactions at The McKittrick Hotel. Additionally, please be advised that one of the following pictures may be considered NSFW. (Hover over or click on gallery images for captions and credits.)
Upon arrival you'll give the name on your reservation to the doorman and then drop off any bags and jackets at the mandatory coat check ($4). Ahead, at the hotel's front desk, they'll check you in and give you a random playing card that's to serve as your room key (AKA entry ticket). Next you climb a flight of dimly lit stairs (there will be lots of stair climbing) before you find your way through a maze of incredibly dark corridors — so dark you can hardly see. In my opinion this is the scariest part. The path is lit up just enough for you to barely find your way, and the looming darkness is sure to make you a bit paranoid. Rest easy knowing that that's as bad as it gets though. The pathway gets a little brighter as you begin to hear faint sounds of a party up ahead, and then suddenly you're in the lobby of The Manderley Bar. It's as if somewhere along your journey through those dark hallways you entered a time-warpy portal to a 1939 speakeasy. It truly is like being in another era. The decor and the ambiance to the decked out, in-character staff...it's all so perfectly reminiscent of its time.
This is where you'll be until the show begins, and it's the perfect place to start the night. It helps set the right mindset for the performances to come, and while you wait you can enjoy the live jazz, treat yourself to one of their finely crafted cocktails, or maybe even mingle a bit (the characters that roam around the bar make for some pretty interesting chit-chat). I personally prefer to get a drink while I wait. I like to splurge when I'm there, and the buzz isn't so bad either. Previously I'd gotten the absinthe punch - which now, I believe, is called "The Green Beast". When I went just recently I got a shot of Jameson. I wasn't able to get my usual punch since my husband and I were running a little late. We actually ended up missing the complete first hour. So, two shots it was, and down the hatch they went. Drinks can be a bit pricey at $17 for a cocktail and around $10 for beers and shots. When in Rome though, right?
When it's showtime they'll begin calling out different cards by suit, and letting people into the performance area in groups. This is where it can get tricky if you've attended the show with someone as everyone is given different cards at check-in. You can try to go in together by waiting until each of your cards has been called, but it can still be difficult to stick together. One thing to note is that the elevator bellhop is sneaky as fuck and will try to separate you guys by letting you off on different floors (which he did to my husband and I). He took a small group of us up and as the door was opening, he told us to remember that there was no talking, to keep our masks on at all times, and to enjoy the show. We all started to move forward, eager to get out of the elevator and into the performance area. My husband, Jimmy, walked out of the elevator first, but before the rest of us could follow, the bellhop held his arm up and blocked off the doorway as he pushed the "door close" button. Everyone gasped, and I laughed at my rookie mistake. He got me! I'm usually slick enough to remember to keep far away from the bellhop. In past showings, I've seen them do this to those standing closest to the elevator door. Jimmy had his hands in his pockets, looking around apprehensively as the door closed behind him. He had no clue that he was alone. It was hilarious, and quite adorable. The bellhop brought the rest of us back down a floor. On the way he mentioned how the show was best experienced alone and as the door opened his parting words to us were, "Fortune favors the bold."
As you're let out into the performance area you'll start to happen upon actors and scenes. There's hardly any dialogue, so everything is portrayed through physical expression and dance (the only lines are from climactic scenes in Rebecca and Macbeth). The way they dance with each other though...violently, sensually, playfully, menacingly — it really is breathtaking. Sometimes it's beautiful, sometimes it's grotesque...a lot of the time it's both. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to a dream...it feels as if you're in the hazy part where you wake up and only remember a few words and instances that really stood out. It's all so hauntingly beautiful and surreal...the captivating characters, the amazing choreography (also by Maxine Doyle)...everything about this magical place makes you believe in what you're seeing.
Another thing to consider is the fact that you might get drawn to different characters and storylines. Don't be surprised if you end up choosing to go your own separate ways. It's not hard to bump back into each other throughout the show, but If you do end up getting separated unexpectedly you can always make an agreement to meet up at the bar and re-enter together that way. You're allowed to visit the bar during the show, and there are bathrooms throughout the performance area.
The entire storyline is actually pretty hard to catch. Each character has their own destiny to fulfill, and you're often faced with the choice of staying with them or choosing to follow other characters that they encounter along the way. You might be able to catch it all, but that depends on how early you get in, and how committed you are. The story loops about 3 times throughout the night, so technically it can be done (with the right timing and the right footwear). Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are the best to follow if you're going this route. Do be wary of the fact that they'll have the most people running after them as they are the stars of the show. Try to stay as close to them as possible so that when they make a run for it you'll be able to stay on their heels and keep them in sight (but be respectful to their performance and personal space). And watch your step on the stairs!
Alternatively, you could choose to simply explore the nooks and crannies. Test out your detective skills and sift through every room: The story also lies within the details of the set. There's so much attention to detail that you could easily spend a whole show exploring each room on each floor (it's that intricate). There are five floors total that one can explore, as well as an off-limits sixth floor, which is invite only. Supposedly, a few lucky people are chosen to see it each night. I actually tend to forget about the existence of the elusive sixth floor purely out of distraction. There's chests and drawers and doors to open, letters and notes and books to read, so much to investigate. There's even a Narnia closet passageway. You could go over and over again and have a new experience each time.
Upon exiting the elevator I turned a dark corner and realized I was in the little town called Gallow Green (home to different businesses and shops like, Paisley Sweets, Bargarran Taxidermy, and Mac Crinain & Reid Detective Agency). I went into the sweets shop and started raiding the candies on the shelves behind the till. A couple other girls came in and started watching me. Feeling awkward and obligated, I offered them a jar. They looked at each other and shrugged before plunging into the Red Hots. You can always distract people with candy. I pocketed a strawberry drop and walked out from behind the counter. They were taking down different jars and tasting all the sweets as I left to continue on with my adventure. I ended up running into a crazed Lady Macbeth as she wandered the halls mumbling to herself. Realizing the second loop was coming to an end, I made my way down to her bedroom where the story sort of begins. It's a big open suite featuring a centered claw-foot bathtub and glass paneled walls. I had time to explore the room a bit since I was there early and none of the characters had arrived yet. I studied the letters that were scattered about and then left the room to explore the decrepit courtyard just outside the suite. I wandered around the eerie piles of bricks and statues hoping to run into Jimmy. It'd been about 30 minutes since we entered the performance space and still no sign of him in sight. I headed back to the Macbeth's suite. When I got back to the room I saw that a small crowd had gathered, and Jimmy was among them. With his hands still in his pockets, he walked around curiously peering at all the other masked guests. I smiled under my mask, he was looking for me. I ran up and pinched his ass. Startled for just a second, he quickly pretended to be appalled before leaning in and asking, "Do I know you?"
I laughed as I nudged his mask up a bit to kiss him. I'm actually glad we got separated at first. He was able to explore on his own for a bit, and it didn't even take long for me to find his fine ass in the crowd. After being with someone for 10 years you definitely know their walk and how they carry themselves - which comes in handy for a blind butt pinch in public.
Shortly after our reunion a woman walked in and began preparing the room for Lady Macbeth. She placed a freshly folded letter on the head of the bathtub before tenderly laying out a black slip dress. I could've sworn it was the housekeeper, but Jimmy thought it was the nurse. (I'm convinced that he's confused with a scene he saw before he met up with me - he was dropped off on the hospital ward floor after all.) After she left the room was significantly empty once again, but I kept us situated by the bed. If you're lucky enough to find a spot near the bed or bathtub I'd recommend taking it because there's a scene coming up that you wouldn't want to miss. When Lady Macbeth showed up we made our way closer to the center of the room. She stripped down and stepped into her slip dress before rinsing her face off in the tub. While she dried herself she noticed the folded up letter. She smiled at the discovery and to herself as she read it. She let it fall to the floor before beginning a solo dance. Macbeth soon joined her and together they took over. They owned the space and commanded our attention with their stunts and lifts...they were so acrobatic, yet perfectly graceful. It was tender, vicious, beautiful and sexual all at once. My favorite part of the dance is when Lady Macbeth has her husband pinned against the rim of the bathtub as she stands atop it dancing over him. She spins herself in slow circles and slides down his torso, between his legs, back down to the ground. She looks like a snake the way she slithers down his body. How fitting. It was pure magic.
When the scene came to an end we were given the ultimatum of choosing between Macbeth and his lady. We ended up choosing neither. Lady Macbeth left for Duncan's big party while Macbeth stayed behind and began a troubled dance around the crumbly old courtyard. We sat in the courtyard until a couple of masked guests started to disrupt the performance by creating their own graceless dance off to the side of Macbeth. To my horror a small crowd had started to gather around them. They were embarrassing themselves and ruining the magic for me, so we left. We found our way upstairs, stocking up on candy before wandering through the other rooms. After spending some time browsing through the Taxidermist shop, we walked into the speakeasy where we found the bartender pouring shots and dealing cards to a few masked guests. Jimmy was watching the bar interaction as I walked around studying the room when Banquo, Malcolm, and MacDuff strode in, sat at a table, and started up a card game themselves. The room started to get a little crowded and I noticed that Jimmy was being pushed out of the way by other audience members. I motioned for him to stand on a crate while I continued around the room. I'd already seen this particular scene before, so I was more focused on the playing cards nailed to the wall. I felt Jimmy next to me again so I locked eyes with him and looked at the card game and then nodded my head towards the door, silently asking if he wanted to stay or go. He shrugged, letting me know it was my call, so I motioned for him to follow as I left the scene.
Fulton, the tailor, was in his shop when we entered, pouring salt on a desk before poking at a dead bird with pins. Suddenly Macbeth burst into the room and violently pinned him against the wall. He seemed to be inquiring about someone's whereabouts as poor Fulton held a pointed finger up towards the speakeasy across the way. Off went Macbeth with an incredible hoard of people trampling after him. Fulton followed them, and we followed him. We stood behind the shelves with him watching the fight scene that was taking place. He seemed pretty distraught over the blows being exchanged between besties, Banquo and Macbeth. He eventually left, returning to his tailor shop just in time to miss out on the bludgeoning. After murdering Banquo, Macbeth departed and we tried to follow, but we lost him in the crowd. I was looking around and noticed Fulton again in his shop, but Jimmy motioned for me to follow him. He had noticed a scene playing out between Malcolm and Agnes (a character who carries around a suitcase and portrays the Second Mrs. de Winter from Rebecca). Apparently she had just left and most of the crowd that was watching had followed her while only a few stayed in the detective's office with Malcolm. I walked into the empty office and noticed a few people gathered in the darkroom in the back. I walked around the partition in time to see Malcolm slumping to the ground, his head in his hands, weeping. I vaguely remembered seeing this scene in the past so I felt okay about looking away for a bit to examine the photos that were strung up around the darkroom. In my peripherals, I noticed him look up, as if suddenly noticing us, but there was a particularly morbid photo I couldn't stop looking at.
He turned away from the crowd again to rummage through his cluttered work space drawers and pulled out an egg. He walked towards us, holding the egg in an outstretched hand. He definitely had my full attention at this point. He kept getting closer and closer and I couldn't tell if he was looking at me or somebody else. I looked around feeling a little nervous...the protection of the mask diminished to nothing with his acknowledgement of us. I kept fidgeting and looking around. There was a man beside me, Jimmy behind me on the other side, and maybe a few other masked faces. When I looked back his eyes connected with mine as he kept closing in. The man next to me extended his hand, but Malcolm stood before me and held the egg up in front of my face. He lowered it, as if he were handing it to me, and as soon as I moved to grab it he took my hand and started running.
He pulled me out of the office, across the alley, through an interrogation room and then finally through an opening in the wall drapes that lead into a tiny backroom. The room was cloaked in red velvet drapes, and a dim light hung low over a table. Atop the table was a box that he opened carefully to reveal several more eggs. He placed the egg he lured me in with among the others and selected a new one. Again, he held this one out to me, this time actually placing it in my hand. It felt cold and kinda heavy, not hollow or fake like I'd expected. He cupped both his hands over mine ever so gently and together we held the egg. Even though I had a feeling he was going to do it, it still startled me when he suddenly forced my hand to close completely over the egg. I gasped as it shattered open. I fully expected cold whites and yolk to spill out from my fist, but instead there was dirt inside. He rigorously rubbed the dirt into my palm before raising it up to the light so he could study the lines. He stared intently at my palm before suddenly pinning me up against the wall, his forearm across my chest. With one hand on my arm to hold me in place and the other holding a magnifying glass up to my eyes, he asked, "Who are you?"
I didn't think I was obligated to answer, so I remained silent. "Do you see the signs as well?"
Another question that went unanswered. He paused for a moment before lowering the magnifying glass and reciting lines from Macbeth:
"On Tuesday last a falcon was hawked at and killed...Duncan's horses turned wild against nature as they would make war with mankind...Is 't night's predominance or the day's shame that darkness does the face of Earth entomb when living light should kiss it?"
He was staring into my eyes again, slowly raising his hands to my mask. Panic washed over me as he lifted it off my face. I fidgeted with the amethyst pendant that was hanging from my neck. It felt taboo for his eyes to be seeing my face and my self-consciousness was starting to unsettle me. I was quickly pulled back into his tumultuous dreamland when all of a sudden he was pressed up against me, his hands in my hair as he nuzzled my neck. He embraced me, holding me close as he pressed his cheek to mine and wept in my ear, "I thought I heard a voice...I thought I heard it crying...I thought I heard a voice crying...I thought I heard a voice..."
His stubble was rough against my cheek as he spoke and it scratched me as he took a step back. He kept me against the wall as he looked sternly into my eyes and warned me, "It will have blood they say, blood will have blood."
He repeated this again and again as he was taken over by a fit of coughs. He was choking on the words, grabbing on to me for support when the lights went out. His coughs turned into retching, and he held my hand open in front of his mouth. Wet lips and hot breath against my palm. I was grateful for the darkness because I was truly freaking out. Was he really about to spit something into my hand? I winced aloud at the thought and then all of a sudden he coughed something up and pressed it into my palm. Thankfully it was dry, but it was kind of sharp...he was trying to close my hand around it, but its pointy end was stabbing at the flesh of my finger and I resisted him. I later realized it was a little black feather. The lights flicked back on while a bell rang out in the distance. "There's no time," he said as his eyes grew wide with shock. He stumbled back and began running out the way we came. "There's no time!" he shouted to me over his shoulder. I ran after him through the room and back out to the alley, but stopped dead in my tracks as Jimmy was just outside the door. He was casually leaning against the wall, waiting for me. Malcolm sprinted off, but we didn't bother following. I was still reeling from the one on one encounter, so I was content to mosey along.
We tried to explore and see more rooms, but I noticed we were being ushered down to the grand finale. Stewards in black masks will begin blocking off the stairways leading up to higher floors. We could only go down to the ballroom at that point, so we entered on the balcony level and found a spot. It looked down into the dramatic banquet scene that was slowly unfolding below us. To the right of me were a group of people who kept making jokes and laughing during a particularly heavy point in the scene. Macbeth was about to meet his demise, so I turned to them and gave them a good old fashioned shushing. That's right, I shushed them.
Sorry, Dennis I had to.There were no stewards in sight to correct them so I took it upon myself. They were truly wonderful about it though. They fell silent, hopefully realizing they were in the wrong.
We left right after the show since we had a reservation to make at The Heath, the restaurant at The McKittrick Hotel — which was almost as amazing as the production itself. Otherwise I would've stayed on at the bar for that "Green Beast" punch I so badly wanted. At the end of the night I realized that even though we were running late and started the evening off a little hectic, we still had a great time. And despite the disruptive guests, it ended up turning out to be my most memorable visit yet.
Contact: 212-904-1880, email@example.com
Address:530 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
Tickets and entry: Monday through Wednesday standard admission is $86.50, Thursdays and Sundays it's $105, Fridays it's $120, and on Saturdays $130. Upgraded ticketing options are also available for those seeking more of a VIP experience. Entry times are from 7pm to 8pm Sunday through Thursday and 7pm to 12am on Fridays and Saturdays. Buy tickets here.
Attire: I've seen people show up in casual clothes and I've seen people come dressed up in 1930s fashion. It all comes down to what you feel like doing. Would you rather dress to impress or dress for comfort and mobility? Ask yourself these questions when picking out your ensemble for the night (if you do end up booking yourself a stay). I like to find a happy medium. Of course I want to dress up and be cute, but I always want to be able to chase around the characters too.
Do stay tuned for my next post about The McKittrick Hotel, a review on their restaurant, The Heath.
Sleep No More: Created by Punchdrunk, produced by Emursive, co-directed by Maxine Doyle & Felix Barrett, designed by Felix Barrett, Livi Vaughan & Beatrice Minns, choreography by Maxine Doyle, sound design by Stephen Dobbie, lighting design by Felix Barrett & Euan Maybank, costume design by David Israel Reynoso