9 Things to Know Before You See Sleep No More

Alyson Penn

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Sleep No More, from British theater company Punchdrunk, is like nothing we’ve seen before—and we live in New York City. The production takes place (and has since 2011) in a bespoke venue: the fictional McKittrick Hotel, a Chelsea warehouse transformed into a sprawling 1930s-style rooming house. Guests wander freely around the premises—which go way beyond a hotel setting—to experience the show at their own pace. Thanks to painstakingly detailed sets, atmospheric jazz music, smoky scenes and pointed spotlights, visitors can’t help but feel like they’ve been dropped in the middle in a noir movie. As for the plot? “Macbeth as a Hitchcock thriller,” says artistic director Felix Barrett. Say no more.

Before you go on this immersive adventure, here are nine things to know.

Courtesy, The McKittrick Hotel

1. You’ll be wearing a mask.

“Without the mask, it would all collapse. The mask is our theater seat,” says Barrett. The white, Scream-esque masks that are handed out preshow offer anonymity and encourage attendees to get close to the actors and scenery. If you’re feeling a little uncomfortable after a few hours behind a mask? Too bad. Guests are told to not remove the cover at any point during the show. 

Courtesy, The McKittrick Hotel

2. There is no dialogue.

Think stage talk can be stilted or fly over your head? Worry not. The scenes are primarily dance and choreographed movement set to ambient music, so everyone is on the same level when following the plot.

3. The place is really, really big.

There are six floors, each containing several hallways, rooms and staircases in every which direction. It can feel overwhelming at first, but you’ll be fine if you go through it slowly (and are wearing comfortable walking shoes). 

4. The set is unbelievable…

The details in each room are phenomenal, from real hair samples and handwritten letters to vintage furniture and chilled air in the “forest.” Beyond the hotel lobby you’ll encounter eerie bedrooms, offices, ruins, a hospital, a graveyard, a church and a banquet hall—all given precise and thorough rendering. As they say, the devil is in the details. 

Courtesy, The McKittrick Hotel

5. …And pretty spooky.

Some of the other things you’ll see? Bird carcasses, headless baby dolls, a bloody bathtub, teary actors and fight scenes—things can get a little intense, if not downright terrifying, during the show. Even encountering a fellow visitor unexpectedly around the corner can make you jump. Not saying it happened to us or anything. 

Courtesy, The McKittrick Hotel

6. You can follow the actors around. Or not.

If you want some semblance of a coherent story, your best bet is to follow one actor (maybe Macbeth himself) from scene to scene. However, some scenes get crowded with other audience members, and it’s hard to keep up with the actors running from room to room and floor to floor. If you would rather take the show at your own speed, it’s just as fulfilling to wander around, exploring rooms and stumbling upon smaller moments. Whatever you do you’ll only catch certain parts of the whole show, but you’ll come together with the rest of the audience for the final sequence.

7. There may be some interaction with actors.

Most of the time the actors will pass through a group of guests like ghosts, as they tend to focus on acting out their storylines. However, there are opportunities for more direct contact; actors have been known to lead guests into rooms for one-on-one scenes.  

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Courtesy, The McKittrick Hotel

8. It’s really dark.

Yes, the plot is dark; it’s based on Macbeth, after all. But it’s also physically dark. Like, sometimes it’s hard to see. We have no advice for this—night vision goggles are unfortunately not allowed (they’d get in the way of the mask).  

9. There’s a show outside the show.

In case we haven’t made it clear, the performance is intense. To find some levity (and libations), head back to where you begin the evening: Manderley Bar, a Parisian-inspired club where an in-house band plays swinging jazz music with a rotating lineup of singers. 

To purchase tickets to Sleep No More, visit sleepnomorenyc.com. There are staggered entry times each night.


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