If you find yourself in New York City and are looking for a really bizarre (but awesome) show to attend, look no further than Sleep No More in the McKittrick Hotel (530 West 27th Street NYC). Created by U.K. production house Punchdrunk (which is exactly how it feels while in attendance), it’s an immersive experience in which you roam free-form throughout several giant warehouses (with 100+ rooms) decorated straight from Norman Bates’ fantasy world. Before I go any further, a note of caution: this would not be the easiest of venues to navigate with a wheelchair and you stand (and occasionally run!) for the entire 2 – 3 hours of the show. Yes, that’s right, expect the occasional burst of running during the show…
The evening began with pre-theatre dinner in the McKittrick Hotel’s restaurant, The Heath, which specializes in high-end British pub fare compliments of Chef R.L. King (formerly sous chef at Il Buco and executive chef at Hundred Acres). The food ranged from good to outstanding, however, what really made it awesome for us was being at our destination. We could actually relax vs. dining elsewhere and then having to hike far west on 27th St (btwn 10th & 11th). The walk would be fine in the spring, however on a bitter cold, windy, snowy Friday in February, relaxing with a cocktail at our final destination really worked for me and my friends (fellow Book Club members).
We split pork toast with hot mustard and a black kale Caesar salad (both outstanding) then followed it up with three pies: beef & ale (good but a little too watery), cauliflower and rice (interesting) and the night’s winner: Fisherman’s pie with halibut, scallops, shrimp, salmon and braised leeks in a light cream sauce. Meanwhile, shrouded in smoke, a lone figure played guitar for the first hour after which 3 additional players and a male singer straight from the 1930’s joined him on stage. His “wife” sipped cocktails at the bar and roamed throughout the room as we were dining. She was a lovely lass who gave us a secret phrase allowing us to skip the line at the show entrance and receive free coat check once inside. It’s well worth your time to chat her up! Interestingly, even the waiters/waitresses are in on the show concept as we were thanked for checking into the McKittrick Hotel. It definitely got us in the mood for what was about to take place!
Now supposedly Sleep No More is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but none of us were able to make the connection. It actually felt way more Alfred Hitchcock than Shakespeare. Suffice it to say there was a lot of death, sex (including full nudity), and religious themes to go around. One member of our party bailed to the bar after half an hour as she found it too much.
But let me back up…after dinner, we were directed outside (don’t check your coats while in The Heath) to the “show” entrance (maybe 50 feet toward 10th Avenue). Once inside, you check your coat and bags as you’re not allowed to carry anything in your hands – only things that will fit in your pocket. We then walked up 2 dimly lit flight of stairs to assemble in the Manderley Bar. (Side note: the lawyer in our group wondered if they had a legal team review the set-up as it felt pretty dangerous before you even start the show!). You’re handed a playing card and you begin the show when the MC calls your card. A lovely woman told us to relax and have a cocktail (which we did), then we were off to the races.
We were immediately on alert after crowding into an elevator as we were handed a mask and told the rules for the evening: “no talking, keep the mask on at all times, and be curious – be very curious.” You’re then dumped in a dimly lit corridor with sound and light coming from all directions. Although the five of us from Book Club made a pact to stick together, we quickly lost each other. It’s surprisingly hard to tell people apart when everyone is wearing the same oversize mask!
The show was bizarre, weird and wondrous all at the same time. I think what made it so great for me was that nothing is dictated – I 100% controlled where I went in the warehouse and I had no idea what would be around the corner! And even when I stumbled upon random scenes from the 25+ actors roaming the warehouse “stage,” I still pretty much had no idea what was going on. As crazy as this sounds, I felt like a voyeur watching scenes from other people’s lives – and I kinda dug it! The masks really added to the anonymity which made it that much more titillating. Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn into a peeping Tom (at least I don’t think so), but I will definitely go back as I felt I only saw a fraction of what was going on.Keep in mind that if the scene you’re watching (all almost entirely without words) gets boring, it’s OK to look for action elsewhere.
In retrospect over cocktails at the Manderley Bar (where we started), we agreed we spent far too much time exploring rooms instead of watching the actors. This is particularly important as the show stops promptly at 10 PM (you’re inconspicuously herded by cast members in black masks as the end draws near). And yes, the rooms where cool (many contain written letters or other tidbits that tie it to the Macbeth storyline), however, I feel I missed a lot of actual action (sadly, I missed all the nude dancers! ). As we were recapping in the bar afterwards, it was shocking at how each of us had a very different experience! My final pieces of advice:
- Go early. We started around 8:30 or so as we didn’t realize it ended at 10:00 PM. We want to be there at 7:00 PM next time when doors open so we can see more of the action.
- If you see people in black masks walking somewhere – follow them as they may be leading you to an interesting scene playing out elsewhere in the warehouse. This is where the running came in – they’re not dawdling and by the time you see them, they may have turned the corner so you gotta hustle to catch up and to keep up!
- Definitely go down dark hallways that look like they lead to a dead end – chances are, it’s leading you to someplace new and interesting!