I am terrified of ghosts. Yes, I hope my loved ones are alive and well and watching out for me, but I have no desire to actually see their spirits float across the room. Sorry Grandma! I still love you! Clearly I am a fraidy cat. I recently attended Punchdrunk Theatre’s Sleep No More, which is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. I knew it would be scary. I was prepared for scary.
The “show” started at 11pm. It didn’t end until after 2am. In the beginning my friends and I were lead into the corridor, and each given a strange white mask. We were instructed to wear the masks at all times, and that we were not allowed to speak. We were then brought into a dimly lit elevator, where we were seperated and dropped off on different floors of the building. It was the strangest show I have ever been to.
The space was amazing. Punchdrunk (a British theatre company) had converted several old warehouses into this fantasical world. Remember those Eye Spybooks from when you were a kid? Well each room was like that, crammed full of interesting odds and ends. And everywhere you looked, people in white masks were pawing through old letters, hair samples tied to white cards, buttons, etc. Some rooms were so interesting I forgot that I was there to watch a play. I just wanted to stay and poke around. Some rooms were freaky. Like the hospital area, with the nervous night orderly woman scratching away at her book in the corner and all those empty beds. It even smelled like a hospital. How did they do that?
I was initially dropped off in a cemetery. It was dark and smoky. A path cut through the graveyard, and in the center of the path sat a black baby carriage, bathed in a pillar of white light. A man and a woman dressed for mourning entered. The woman was crying. The man was holding her, whispering words of comfort. They paused in front of small grave with a fresh mound of dirt holding a petite cross in place. And then the man gently led the woman away. That was the amazing thing about this show. You had to find the actors, and follow them.
I was running all over the building, following the actors around. Sometimes I wasn’t fast enough, and I would enter a room after the actors were gone. A couple times I ended up alone. That’s when it really felt like a nightmare. At the beginning, my friends and I were told that it was best to expereince the performance on our own. Maybe that was the best thing for the show, but it wasn’t the best thing for me. I needed people around.
MacBeth, in and of itself, is rather terrifying. I watched people kill and be killed. I witnessed brutal love-making and the cavorting anguish of a body posessed. And yet, with my mask I felt safe, like a ghost that was there, but not there at the same time. Once or twice an actor in the cast would lock eyes with me. That’s when it stopped feeling like just a weird dream. One of the actors put his hands around my waist when I almost backed into him and I was so terrified I thought I was going to die right there. I wanted it to all just be a dream. And I wanted to watch the dream, not be a part of it.
The cast was full of exquistite dancers and actors incredibly gifted in movement. I wish there was a way I could show you how they walked on the very walls and were flung about the space by powers seemingly beyond their control. Alas, you had to be there.