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The McKittrick Hotel & Punchdrunk

flickr//bahmanfarzad

Immersive theatre, where there are no boundaries between the audience and the performers, is like no other drama: ‘roaming audiences experience epic storytelling inside sensory theatrical worlds’. Punchdrunk, a company originally from Brighton, are arguably the most successful exponent. They mix classic texts, physical theatre and design installations, as well as many other mediums, and put on their distinctive shows within unexpected sites. They create experiences, which push the boundaries of theatre and reject the passive obedience of the audience often encouraged in mainstream theatre.

‘Sleep No More’ is their long-running and highly successful show in New York. Set in the fictional McKittick Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, ‘Sleep No More’ is like being dropped into a film noir adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth.’ Members of the audience freely roam around five floors of an abandoned building, transformed into a labyrinth of more than a hundred dimly lit and meticulously detailed rooms and spaces. The cast evoke, rather than replicate, key scenes from Macbeth using dance and movement. But even when there were no performers in a room, it still feels exciting and dramatic, not least because of the great work of sound designer Stephen Dobbie’s Hitchcockian soundtrack.

And, by the way, at the start of the show every member of the audience is given a dehumanising bird-like white carnival mask and instructed to be completely silent. The effect is to create a sense of surreal voyeuristic anonymity. The show is not linear and everyone will have a different journey through the space, alighting upon different scenes and different details. Half of the fun is comparing notes at the end. Some choose to follow certain characters, like Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, while others will simply explore and wander. The audience are largely unacknowledged by the performers, but occasionally they will unexpectedly pull individuals into the action. My fourteen year old sister, looking a lot older behind her mask, was grabbed by a male actor who began kissing her neck; I was grabbed by a performer and led into a small locked room, before being shown an emotional dance piece.

What I love about Punchdrunk is their bravery. Punchdrunk are unafraid to push what is “acceptable” in modern theatre. Within this production I stood a few feet away from a group of naked actors, one wearing a cows head, pouring what seemed to be blood all over each other to the sound of electro-disco. I witnessed a man killing a pregnant woman by throwing her repeatedly against a wall. ‘Sleep No More’ is exciting and shocking: a wonderfully thought-provoking and emotive experience. Punchdrunk perform regularly in London – this summer they transformed the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich; last year they transformed a London warehouse into a 1960s Hollywood set in ‘A Drowned Man”. Whether here, or in New York, go see them.

Immersive theatre, where there are no boundaries between the audience and the performers, is like no other drama: ‘roaming audiences experience epic storytelling inside sensory theatrical worlds’. Punchdrunk, a company originally from Brighton, are arguably the most successful exponent. They mix classic texts, physical theatre and design installations, as well as many other mediums, and put on their distinctive shows within unexpected sites. They create experiences, which push the boundaries of theatre and reject the passive obedience of the audience often encouraged in mainstream theatre.

‘Sleep No More’ is their long-running and highly successful show in New York. Set in the fictional McKittick Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, ‘Sleep No More’ is like being dropped into a film noir adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth.’ Members of the audience freely roam around five floors of an abandoned building, transformed into a labyrinth of more than a hundred dimly lit and meticulously detailed rooms and spaces. The cast evoke, rather than replicate, key scenes from Macbeth using dance and movement. But even when there were no performers in a room, it still feels exciting and dramatic, not least because of the great work of sound designer Stephen Dobbie’s Hitchcockian soundtrack.

And, by the way, at the start of the show every member of the audience is given a dehumanising bird-like white carnival mask and instructed to be completely silent. The effect is to create a sense of surreal voyeuristic anonymity. The show is not linear and everyone will have a different journey through the space, alighting upon different scenes and different details. Half of the fun is comparing notes at the end. Some choose to follow certain characters, like Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, while others will simply explore and wander. The audience are largely unacknowledged by the performers, but occasionally they will unexpectedly pull individuals into the action. My fourteen year old sister, looking a lot older behind her mask, was grabbed by a male actor who began kissing her neck; I was grabbed by a performer and led into a small locked room, before being shown an emotional dance piece.

What I love about Punchdrunk is their bravery. Punchdrunk are unafraid to push what is “acceptable” in modern theatre. Within this production I stood a few feet away from a group of naked actors, one wearing a cows head, pouring what seemed to be blood all over each other to the sound of electro-disco. I witnessed a man killing a pregnant woman by throwing her repeatedly against a wall. ‘Sleep No More’ is exciting and shocking: a wonderfully thought-provoking and emotive experience. Punchdrunk perform regularly in London – this summer they transformed the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich; last year they transformed a London warehouse into a 1960s Hollywood set in ‘A Drowned Man”. Whether here, or in New York, go see them.

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