Sleep No More goes beyond fourth wall

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Converting Old Lincoln School into one outrageous set

Article By: Derek Anderson and Marissa Holt

A new type of innovative theatre has hit the greater Boston area all the way from the United Kingdom thanks to Punchdrunk, a British production company. Sleep No More, has allowed for the Old Lincoln School in Brookline, Mass. to be transformed into an elaborate set, introducing a walk-through performance of an Alfred Hitchcock-inspired version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The results left audience members breathless.
The performance was one of excellence, shock and confusion. Although it was amazing, it certainly was not for everyone. The production contained intense full-frontal nudity, mass amounts of blood and death, eerie and dissonant music, elaborate sets, and contemporary dancing.

Upon entering the school, audience members (who were, in fact, participants) were handed playing cards and then brought to a bar area in very dim lighting with Frank Sinatra playing in the background, while they waited for the show to begin. A group departed each time a specific number or face card was announced. As the group left, they were given masks to promote anonymity and were forbidden to speak. Filing into an elevator, people were thrown into the mystery of Sleep No More. With random stops on various floors, people were dropped straight into the modernized version of MacBeth, unknowably exploring sets and finding their way to unfolding scenes.

The show was based upon the audience members’ will to explore and understand. Each room in the school was transformed into a setting loosely based on Macbeth that was tainted with visions of Hitchcock. When released from the elevator, the audience found their way to a room in which a scene is portrayed. Viewers had the option to either continue following a specific actor for the duration of the production, or wander throughout the rooms to find another scene that is unfolding simultaneously. Each act is performed twice so if you miss it the first time, there is always another!

The acts were performed in silence, letting the music control the mood. The actors used contemporary dance to express the scene and the emotions they felt. Through it was said to be a play, the performance was much more of a ballet/contemporary dance expose. Speech as a form of communication was used minimally and the actors’ interaction was mostly physical.

Through the duration of the performance, the participants stand around the actors, following them in silence through the multiple sets and floors of the school. Onlookers are mostly ignored, but the actors occasionally break the contact barrier. They make intense eye contact, whisper, and touch audience members, adding to the eerie feeling of the production.

The music and sets were also a major part of the experience. One particular room contained multiple bathtubs that were lined up along the walls, while some were filled with water and others were empty. One housed an eel and fish and another contained bloody water. Shelves placed on the walls of this set held various objects, including eyeballs. Attendants were strategically placed in the rooms and often went unnoticed. They wore all black clothing and a black mask. The music that was played depended on your location. Audience members heard a range of music including swing, jazz, dissonant noise and techno by the end of the evening.

The senses of the human body were completely consumed by the performance. With dim lighting, glowing candles, darkened hallways and loud music, the show strips the audience from the outside world, containing them in this alternate existence. Because of the anonymity of the masks and the unknown sets around them, the line between performer and observer is blurred. The actors often became the observers and sometimes the observers became the actors. On occasion, actors were pulled into scenes unexpectedly, keeping the audience always on their toes.

The people that went to see Sleep No More came from a wide spectrum. The show was more on the mature side, but the variety of people in the audience showed people of all ages (over the age of 18) could enjoy the adaption to Macbeth, though being knowledgeable of Shakespeare’s original is highly beneficial.
The inspiration for this theatre piece hit Artistic Director Felix Barrett back when he attended University of Exeter.

“He had a great school teacher,“ said his mother, Margaret Barrett. “But he always had it in him, it’s a part of him.”

Barrett’s father, Simon, also shed some light on his son’s success, summing up the experience in his own words.

“It’s about emotion, isn’t it?” said Barrett. “It’s like life; you pop out and can go in any direction. Should I go this way, or that way? It’s like life, it’s totally unpredictable.”