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  • Chris ORourke

New York: Sleep No More

Sleep No More at The McKittrick Hotel. Photo by Yaniv Schulman


More than an American Horror Story

The McKittrick Hotel. Designed to be New York’s flagship hotel for luxury and decadence. Mysteriously condemned just weeks before it was due to open in 1939, its doors closed under a shroud of suspicion. Over the decades it slipped into shadow, shrouded in the mists of myth and legend, a place you might pass on the street without ever knowing it was there. Yet in recent years there have been rumours of ghostly sightings. Chained doors that now open at night. Voices and music heard rushing down darkened corridors. White faced figures seen haunting the nooks and crannies of the McKittrick’s dark and secret spaces. Indeed, in the Manderley Bar of the McKittrick Hotel the mysterious Maximilian is said to await the pleasure of your company. Smooth and sleek, Maximilian might well tempt you to indulge in “Sleep No More,” a noir styled, immersive experience, dripping with danger, decadence, and death. And well you should, for as we all know, the only thing to do with temptation is to yield to it. Built loosely around Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “Sleep No More” is an immersive, site-specific experience on an unbelievably impressive scale, a visual feast staggering to behold, and a design and choreographic masterclass of the highest order.

A tale less told than experienced, “Sleep No More” is the brainchild of Emursive, in collaboration with UK’s Punchdrunk, which sees the legendary McKittrick Hotel transformed into a dimly dark, evocative space through which the audience can freely move. Indeed, the space itself is the real star of the “Sleep No More” experience, with treasures to be found around each darkened corner, up each dimly lit stairway, down every darkened passageway. Treasures that position “Sleep No More” in a liminal space between horror, memory, psychology and nostalgia. Meticulous in detail, right down to specific smells in places, “Sleep No More” reaches beyond the theatrical and cinematic, whose tone is firmly Hollywood Golden Age, to become a choregraphed, multi-sensory experience. Objects, many of which can be handled, are both literal and symbolic, married to a searing soundtrack evocative of the period. Artists like the Ink Spots, or composer Bernard Herrmann, reinforce “Sleep No More’s” noir-ish sensibility, even if, in places, volume overload can assault the senses.

Sleep No More at The McKittrick Hotel. Photo by Robin Roemer

While Macbeth forms the basis for "Sleep No More's" sporadic movement sequences, knowledge of the bard’s dark tale is not essential. For “Sleep No More” seeks less to present than to evoke. Throughout, the choice to follow specific characters is always present. Yet “Sleep No More” seduces on the periphery of vision, drawing you to attend to fleeting images, disappearing characters and suggestive spaces. The demented Scottish king and his power-hungry wife rendered as gangsters serve to provide a loose narrative device, a jumping off point into an experience, potentially, far richer on a personal level. An experience that renders ghosts as real and the audience as ghosts. Throughout, the silenced audience, concealed behind skull-like masks, haunt this macabre, film-noir landscape, informing the experience as well as being informed by it.

If “Sleep No More” is a distinctly American horror story, steeped in its New York noir landscape, it ultimately transcends the confines of horror. In playing with the idea that what we imagine can be far more frightening than obvious, cheap shocks, “Sleep No More” is strong on atmosphere and light on scares. This elevates the experience above that of the carnival, horror house into something far more psychologically engaging. That being said, this tapestry of terror ultimately builds towards a bacchanal of blood. And when the devil rides in, and the witches strike out, and the feast is finally spread on the table, “Sleep No More” delivers a stunning, haunting, and unforgettable finale.

Sleep No More at The McKittrick Hotel. Photo by S Driely

Smooth, sharp, and irresistibly sexy, “Sleep No More” offers a macabre, site-specific, immersive experience staggering to behold, displaying production values of the highest order. Throughout, when performers appear, their precisely choreographed movement and dance sequences, individually or collectively, are often exquisite. If, ultimately, a narrative is less recreated than created, it may well be that the tale you find is vastly more personal than that of the Scottish king slayer. And once you do find it, why not tell it to Maximillian in the McKittrick’s legendary, Gallow Green rooftop restaurant, famous for its Sunday brunches, where you can join him afterwards for a late-night cocktail. And well you should. For when it comes to “Sleep No More,” you can certainly check out any time you like, but you may never want to leave.

“Sleep No More” by Emursive, in collaboration with Punchdrunk, runs daily at The McKittrick Hotel, 530, West 27th Street, New York.

“Sleep No More” features nudity and use of strobe lighting.

For more information on “Sleep No More,” and other McKittrick Hotel events or experiences, visit The McKittrick Hotel.

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