So I Got Trapped In A Hitchcock Film.
WARNING: This post might have spoilers. I’m going to try my best not to spoil anything, but it’s difficult, so if you plan on seeing Sleep No More without knowing what to expect (which is definitely a good plan!) maybe you should skip this post.
It’s 9:00 in the morning on July 17th.
My feet are bruised and bloodied, my hair is in disarray, there’s a white mask in my room, a two of diamonds playing card on my desk, and a golden band on my finger.
You must be thinking, “What the fuck happened to her?”
Well, believe it or not, I went to see a play. But not just any play, my favorite play: the immersive, haunting, and unusual Sleep No More. I’ve been there twice, and trust me, I will be going again. For many, many times. It is addicting and revolutionary and just beautiful.
Sleep No More is unlike any other play in the WORLD, and I’m not exaggerating. You see, there is no stage or seats. The audience and the actors share the same space, and YOU have a role that’s as equally important as the actors. The show is the story of Macbeth with a dash of Rebecca and set in a film noir. The plot is notoriously complex and very difficult to follow, but my goodness, is it worth it. I got exposed to it this last school semester. My English teacher is a steward there (which mean she is a crew member/security guard for the show) and she took us to see it as a class on the day after my birthday! That was the best birthday present I ever got haha!
What does this have to do with classic movies, you may ask? Well, the story of the play may be about four centuries old, but it gets a new spin by being set in the 1930s, and takes lots of inspiration from the works of Alfred Hitchcock. The show even has some characters from Rebecca, such as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers. Cool, right? The show takes place inside the McKittrick Hotel (sound familiar, Vertigo fans?) which is actually a warehouse in Chelsea that has been converted into a six-floor 1930s style hotel with over a hundred rooms, including a maze, a graveyard, a nursery, an apothecary, a sweet shop, a banquet hall, an infirmary, a padded cell, a bathroom, a bedroom, a bar, a hotel lobby, a morgue, a detective’s office, a luggage room…you name, it, the McKittrick has it. It even has a Narnia closet, in which you enter, then exit into a different part of the hotel!
Some of the many lavishly detailed and decorated sets of the McKittrick.
The themes that Hitchcock explores in his films: voyeurism, psychoanalysis, superstition, character doubles, homosexuality, and religion, are all main themes in Sleep No More as well. I’ll get more in depth with this later in the post.
The show also has the most amazing music! It’s all vintage swing/big band music, my favorite! It also has snippets from the Vertigo theme and love song as well. You aren’t allowed to talk in the show, and it takes me all my strength not to sing along with the beautiful/eerie music!
Here are some things that set Sleep No More apart from your average theater production:
No stage, no seats. Both actors and audience share the same space within the McKittrick Hotel. If the character is writing something on a typewriter, you are encouraged to look over their shoulder and read it. You can sit at a table with a character, or stand next to them. If you wanna explore the McKittrick, go ahead. If you want to chase an actor and learn more about their character, go ahead. The show is meant to be interactive. There is no right or wrong way to go about the show. You choose your own path and do what you want to do. Similarity to Hitchcock #1: immersiveness. In his films, Hitchcock tries to stimulate all of the audience’s senses. Sleep No More does the same. A normal stage show only stimulates your sense of sight, but here your sense of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and even taste are stimulated! It’s truly a full-body experience.
You never see the same thing twice. Yes, the same things are performed at Sleep No More, but you never see the same thing twice, no matter how many times you see the show. Seriously. Because you are choosing your path through the McKittrick, everyone sees something different. There are no two similar Sleep No More experiences. And most of the scenes happen at the same time, so when you are watching something, there about 20 other things going on at the same time in different locations throughout the hotel. The show is three hours long (yes, standing, walking, and running on your feet for three hours, can’t ask for better exercise!) and each hour is a “loop,” so the action of the show repeats three times so you can have a chance to attack the show from a different angle each time. There is a finale at the end that everyone gets to see. So it’s actually not a waste of money to see this show more than once. My two visits to the McKittrick so far were COMPLETELY different.
The actors barely speak. You read that right. The story of Macbeth is told entirely through dance here. Yes, this is interpretive dance. No it isn’t boring. Yes, it is difficult to understand and is meant to make you think. The dancing is violent, passionate, and visceral. I admire these performers and the amount of physical work they do. It’s a lot harder than it looks. Can you imagine telling a story entirely through movement? That’s what these actors do. It isn’t about what the characters say, but it’s about what they feel, what’s going on in their minds. It’s about their psychological makeup. Like in Hitchcock’s films, psychology is an extremely important theme. The actors put a lot of improvisation into their roles, and even though they aren’t as famous as the shits we have in today’s films and television shows, they are easily the most talented performers I can think of today. Some actors get more vocal than others, but this would usually be through screams and other sounds to convey emotion. There is a scene in particular in which Lady Macbeth begins to see spirits around her (that’s the audience!) and she says that whole scene from Macbeth. I think that’s the most vocal a character will get. The audience is absolutely not allowed to speak either. In this show, silence speaks volumes
Bedroom dance between the Macbeths
You’re in a mask. The audience MUST wear the mask. This is the part of the show that I’m not too keen on, but it’s supremely important. The mask is big, white, scary, and has a duck bill. But the mask is used to create a sense of anonymity and to help you lose some of your restrictions and inhibitions. Because your face is covered, you can lose yourself and loosen up and be someone else. This is SNM’s (I’m using the acronym because it’s easy and I’m that obsessed) version of the Hitchcock voyeurism. Look at Rear Window, Hitchcock’s film that’s all about voyeurism. The mask is like Jimmy Stewart’s binoculars in the film: it allows us to look in on the lives of these people, and take interest in their affairs.
One on Ones. With a show that forces you to share the same space with the actors, you’d think it can’t get any more intimate, right? But trust me, it does. The actors give one one ones, which is a special private performance for one audience member only. The actor gives them only once per loop, so only three audience members get a one one one with each character. The audience member chosen is entirely up to the performer, and each performer looks for different things in a prospective one on one participant. Like the rest of the show, they are EXTREMELY INTENSE. But don’t worry, you won’t get hurt or anything! It’s just intense to witness. Touch is also an important part of the one on ones, but it’s nothing inappropriate. You also get a little gift from the character after the one on one If you get lucky and are chosen, one on ones are really the highlight of the night!
Nicholas Bruder as Macbeth. He’s scary…a scary GOOD actor!
It’s not scary but…it’s extremely eerie and suspenseful, like a Hitchcock film! There are no monsters waiting for you and no creepies lurking behind corners or anything. Yet SNM is wonderfully sinister. The entire hotel is dimly lit (you actually need to walk through a pitch black labyrinth just to get into the hotel!), there is a lot of smoke effects, the music can be creepy at times, and the show places a lot of emphasis on the supernatural and superstitious. After all, Macbeth is the only Shakespeare play in which witchcraft and satanism play a central part! The McKittrick is chock-full of superstitious relics and religious icons to “ward off evil spirits” and the show is very much influenced by the Paisley witch trials, which occurred when Shakespeare was writing Macbeth. Also, if you look carefully, legend has it that every line from Shakespeare’s original play is written somewhere throughout the McKittrick. The backstories to these little things you see and experience in the show is absolutely fascinating to explore.
Now, if you plan on going sometime, here’s some SNM etiquette tips.
Be a courteous audience member. As much as you and I would like it to happen, we are not in the McKittrick alone. You have about 400 others trying to enjoy the show too. So no pushing, no shoving, and no crowding too close! I am not a big girl, and not all the other audience members are big either, but the ones that are jostle me and have almost trampled me! Luckily I’m on the slender side so I can snake through pushy crowds, but I can’t tell you how many audience members have been rude during my two visits.
MOVE PUH-LEEZ. During my second visit, I spent my first loop following Banquo. He’s a fascinating character, and I was hoping to get his one on one because I heard it is really scary. But guess what? The actors, who are professional dancers and extremely thin and limber, run on to their next scene faster than the blink of an eye. So of course, I’m running like crazy to keep up with Banquo, but because the AUDIENCE WOULDN’T EFFIN MOVE, I eventually lost the guy, and didn’t get his one on one! So audience members: learn to think fast and move even faster please!
Fortune favors the bold. That is the motto of the show. And you do want to follow it. Trust me, good things happen to those who remain fearless and calm throughout the show. My first time, I was a little timid because the show was just so unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. But I was bold my second time, and I had the time of my life! You want to get the best out this experience, so do explore and interact! Remember, it’s a play. No one will hurt you! Have fun!
Do it alone. SNM is meant to be something you experience by yourself, and trsut me, it’s so much better that way. You get to do whatever you want, you won’t be tied down to the wishes of someone else, and you’ll be more likely to get chosen for a one on one! You will have a much richer experience when you do it alone. And there is no reason to be scared. Being alone is empowering, actually!
But if you’re a big fat chicken…and want to go through the show with someone you know, just remember not to be in the way all the time. And if you’re a couple, FOR FUCK’S SAKE DON’T HOLD HANDS. AND GIRLS DON’T CUDDLE YOUR FUCKING BOYFRIEND HE IS NOT GOING TO HELP YOU EVER.
TALL PEOPLE MOVE TO THE BACK. I’ve always considered myself tall: 5’5″. But SNM taught me that I’m actually really…short. And since some audience members never seem to see me and push past me, it must be true. I don’t know what happened, but on my Monday night visit, it seemed that everyone in the audience was over six feet tall! And of course, all the human elevators had to push to the FRONT to watch the action, while 5’5″ 120 pound me is stuck hopelessly trying to crane my neck over the towering heads! My friend is 5’2″ so she had an even more difficult time. SO IF YOU ARE HOPELESSLY TALL, MOVE TO THE BACK SO THE SHORTIES CAN SEE WHAT’S GOING ON TOO. YOU WILL STILL BE ABLE TO SEE FROM THE BACK. SO STAY THERE.
Respect the actors. The great thing about SNM is that you’re able to get near the actors. But that doesn’t mean people should behave however they please with them. Don’t touch them unless they invite you to or get all in their faces. I’ve heard a lot of stories about people disrespecting and deliberately trying to disorient the actors, and it’s horrible to do. If someone pays $90 for the ticket, why would they even try to ruin the show for themselves? The actors are people too, and have feelings! They work their butts off every night, so they deserve respect.
Dress comfortably. There are always shits who think it’s cool to come to SNM in a cocktail dress and heels, and they end up leaving early because they can’t enjoy themselves. How do you expect to wear six inch heels for three hours straight and live? You are going to be standing the whole time, and doing lots of running, so wear comfortable shoes. Dress in light, cool clothing because some parts of the McKittrick have no air-conditioning and are therefore INCREDIBLY hot and stuffy. I know it’s tempting to dress up for this show, especially with a cast dressed in 1930s costumes, but you need to resist that temptation. One of the few times that comfort goes first for me.
This show is NOT for the faint of heart. Now this is IMPORTANT. You have to be at LEAST 16 to see this show. But having a 16 year-old sister, I think 18 would be a better age. The show is VIOLENT (it’s Macbeth, so that’s a given). My friend actually got bloodstains on her mask! The show also has NUDITY. Yep. The actors do get naked. Both male and female nudity. So if you’re an immature baby who can’t look at a naked body without saying “ew” or laughing, then don’t bother seeing this show. And more than anything else, the show is extremely INTENSE. You are going to see a lot of disturbing behavior, violent scenes, and spaces that are meant to make you feel certain things (the graveyard is meant to give you the chills, etc.) In my first visit, I actually walked into a padded cell! Some rooms are small and claustrophobic, while others are large and spacious. But there is a lot of intense, disturbing psychological situations. Actually, they are at every turn. So if you feel that you are not up to seeing such things, don’t go. It’s not an easy show to watch, and it really drains your emotions, but in the best way. It is totally worth it.
Now I want to talk about my SNM crushes. The entire cast is absolutely beautiful. And it makes life so difficult for a girl like me. I have two crushes:
Nick Atkinson as Maximilian Martell, the Man in the Bar. When you enter the McKittrick, you enter into the Manderley Bar, and from there you get into the actual show. It’s nice to sit in the 1920s speakeasy-style bar to get int the mood before the performance. In the bar, you will see two characters, Maximilian and his sweetheart, Violet. Max is my first-ever SNM crush. He is played by Australian actor and singer Nick Atkinson (so yes, he does have the adorable accent). On my first visit there, we shared a conversation filled with banter and flirtation, and he asked me my name and lovingly kissed my hand. I was hooked since then. I even added him as a friend on Facebook soon afterwards. But now I’m too busy/lead too much of an awesome, exciting life to ever go on Facebook anymore, so that doesn’t matter. On my second visit, he gives me my mask (instead of Violet who usually gives out the masks) and calls me “his love” siiiiighhh. Then when explaining the rules to the audience, he lightly traced his fingers along my shoulders (which were bare) and whispered the last sentence of the rules right in my ear. My heart was thumping like A FREAKIN RABBIT ON THE RUN. It was on overdrive. How he didn’t hear it, I have no idea. Or maybe he did hear it. Then when the show was over and I went back into the bar to unwind and talk to my friends about what I saw, he comes up to me saying, “My darling! You’ve made it one piece, I see!” Then I explained to him that it isn’t my first time here and he just smiles at me. Does he remember me from three months ago? And just look at how effing handsome he is! Jesus Christ, what perfection.
In the second picture, Paul’s the handsome perfect ginger on the far left. You can’t see it in these pictures, but his eyes are the most lovely bright blue.
Paul Zivkovich as the Porter. On my first visit to SNM, I saw Paul as Macbeth, and he was EXCELLENT! But when I saw him as the Porter on my second visit, that’s when I fell in love with him. Paul is also Australian (what’s with that place!?) and he is an extremely gifted actor and one HELL OF A PERFECT DANCER. I stuck with Porter Paul for my entire third loop. I saw him laugh, cry, dance, everything. I followed Porter’s story from beginning to end. There is a scene in which the Boy Witch lip-syncs to Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” (a beautiful scene) and while everyone moved forward to watch the Boy Witch sing, I stuck around and watched it from afar with Paul at his concierge desk. He put so much emotion and heart into his reactions to the song that I was on the verge of tears for his character. We made so much eye contact, and during the song he shone his lamp on my hand so he can watch my fingers tap along to the rhythm of the song. It also helped that I had sparkling nail polish on, and men are attracted to anything that shines. he then made eye contact with me again, and shone the lamp on my face. I then proceeded to follow his character around, but then this BITCH came out of nowhere and tried to block me from getting close to Paul and therefore getting his one on one! After one particularly violent dance, he falls by my feet and that girl’s. She then holds out her hand to him so she can help him up, but you know what? In one fluid motion, he gets up, grabs my hand, and whisks me away, hand-in-hand, down a hallway and through many doors until we reached a room the size of a closet. He locked the door, AND I GOT THE ONE ON ONE!!!! I GOT THE ONE ON ONE!!! WOOOOO! I don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll say that it was intense, intimate, and heartbreaking. It was just..amazing! I also got a ring from Paul at the end of the one on one, a plain golden band. I STILL haven’t taken it off since Monday night! And after the one on one was over and he was back in the performance space, he catches my eye and puts a finger to his lips, telling me to always keep his secret. So you see guys, I made a promise to Paul and I can’t spoil anything! But now I’m in love with him and his gorgeous gingerness.
In conclusion, SNM is the best show in the world ever. It’s unlike anything you’ll ever see. It’s better than a Broadway show, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. If anyone plans to go and wants to discuss any questions/concerns with me, feel free to comment or drop me an email! The best way I can describe the experience is that it’s like stepping into a dream, with all the beauty and horror that comes in the realm of fantasy.