Last week I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Okay, well, it wasn’t again. It was my first time. And it wasn’t a dream, although it sure felt like one, like a weird meandering dream filled with meaningful images that only make sense symbolically. But it was Manderley. I sat at a desk and rifled through the mail addressed to the De Winters. I inspected their datebook and even thought for a while that I was chasing Mrs. Danvers around. I was actually at a production of Sleep No More, a Punchdrunk Theatre production currently running in a warehouse in Chelsea.
When I was considering what play I’d like to see when I was in New York for BEA, Jenny of Jenny’s Books mentioned Sleep No More, and once I looked into it, I knew I had to go. An experimental and immersive production of Macbeth filled with nods to Rebecca and Alfred Hitchcock? Yes, please. So on my last night in New York, Jenny and I turned up at “The McKittrick Hotel” to experience the play. After checking in, we were sent up a pitch-black hallway that led to a crowded lounge where we waited for our group numbers to be called. (The managers give people who check in together different numbers to encourage them to experience the play separately.)
When my turn came, I and the other members of my group were given white masks that we had to wear the whole time we were in the “hotel.” We were then taken up in an elevator that stopped on each floor and let a few people out. I ended up on what I came to call “the dead baby floor” because one of the first things I saw was a room with an empty crib and lots of headless dolls hanging over it. There was also a graveyard with a baby carriage and an abandoned child’s bedroom. Creepy! Eventually an actress showed up, and following advice Jenny had gathered ahead of time, I started following her around. She ran up and down the stairs and had silent exchanges with a man in his bedroom and a cool redhead. (Almost all of the play is silent.) She poured liquid from a vial into drinks, watched a man lip-synching to “Is That All There Is?” in a nightclub, and offered a glass of milk to a pregnant woman who promptly fainted. What the heck is she up too? I never figured it out—is she Mrs Danvers? A witch? Hecate herself?
She was definitely not Lady Macbeth. I know this because I ended up following Lady Macbeth after she ran past me to leave a big ballroom scene. She and Macbeth had a tussle in the bedroom, then he left only to return with blood all over his clothes and hands. He stripped down to nothing, and she bathed him. After he left, she danced in a frenzy around the room. She was already starting to crack.
After following the actors for a little over an hour, I decided to start poking around the set. This is strongly encouraged, by the way! You’re supposed to snoop. The set has a 1930s noir feel to it, and many of the rooms are filled with strange objects, many of which I think are meant to hark back to Macbeth itself. For example, one room had paintings of the line of Scottish kings and queens. As I looked through the desk in a detective’s office, I saw notes about unnatural weather and bizarre animal behavior. The office was also full of birds—there was even an ostrich egg in a file cabinet! Is the detective a bird watcher? Is he investigating crimes involving birds?
One whole floor was set up like a hospital. There were rows of beds in one room, and one of these beds was filled with potatoes. The beds look child-sized. Is this a reference to Duncan’s son Donalbain’s escape to Ireland? Another floor featured a street scene with a tailor, a funeral parlor, and the Manderley room. There was also a witch’s lair that smelled beautiful, what with all the herbs, but felt creepy, what with the occultic symbols everywhere. And Dr. Who fans—there were Weeping Angels! Well, they weren’t angels because they had no wings, but still… I was thoroughly unsettled. And I saw Banquo’s ghost! And Duncan’s (or Banquo’s?) deathbed—full of feathers! Why?
As I was wandering, other actors turned up, and I followed them—or not, depending on where I was and what I was doing and how hot the room was. It got hot in there, especially with that mask! At the end of the evening, I met up with Jenny in the lounge, and we went out to a diner and compared notes on the evening. We did indeed have very different experiences. We saw most of the same rooms, but few of the same scenes. But you’ll have to read her post to get her version of the story!
I’ve read up on the play since the weekend, and I realize that there were huge things both Jenny and I missed. There was a candy store! And people could eat the candy! (Did y’all know I have a sweet tooth?) Malcolm cracks an egg in an audience member’s hand! One person during each show gets pulled into a room for a one-on-one with a nurse! Some people have been left off the elevator alone on a floor. I would totally go again just to find out what play I end up seeing on a second visit.
The video below is for an earlier production in Boston, but it will give you a sense of the visuals. See also this video about the New York production from the BBC and this interactive look at some of the rooms from the New York Times.