“Sleep No More”: I Finally Saw It

Earlier this month, I caught up with “Sleep No More,” the immersive experience from the British company Punchdrunk, which has converted three Chelsea warehouses into a combination theatrical adventure/art installation inspired by “Macbeth.” (Pictured are Sophie Bortolussi as Lady Macbeth and Nicholas Bruder as Macbeth.) Most of my journalistic colleagues reviewed the production when it opened in New York last April, but I dawdled in dropping by. The evening, which lasts around three hours when you factor in pre- and post-show cocktails in the venue’s wonderful, plush-bordello bar, has been packing them in for months, and is hardly in need of my cheerleading.

Let me make it crystal clear that I heartily recommend “Sleep No More” to just about anyone who is physically fit enough to follow the actors through the dozens of rooms and up and down stairs. There is simply nothing like the play anywhere: in comparison, the linear, follow-the actors plays and musicals I have seen over the years seem like kid’s stuff. This is a self-directed evening – you choose which characters to follow around the creepy playing areas – with many rewards. What’s more, it’s fun to be an anonymous voyeur: every audience member is required to wear a Venetian-carnival-style mask.

All the same: after I had been wandering the show for about an hour-and-forty-five minutes, I found myself flagging. I wasn’t physically tired; I’d rested up for the experience. I was mentally a bit bored. Let me confess that I have ADD: not Attention-Deficit Disorder but Art-Deficit Disorder. I cannot spend more than an hour or so in a museum or a gallery without wanting to leave in search of sustenance. And because “Sleep No More” was for me as much an art experience as a theatre experience, when the art-experience part took over I lost my stamina.

The friend who saw “Sleep No More” with me thought my post-show confession of slight boredom to be a sign that I’d lost my critical bearings. He FB’d and tweeted as soon as the show was over that the production was the most fun he’d ever had in the theater. His is the majority opinion. But I’d be lying if I said I completely shared it.

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