Friday, 12 October 2012

NYC: Sleep no more

Steak at Sparks
I was in New York City for work in October and had a great time. I stayed in an airbnb apartment in Chelsea that, unsurprisingly for the area, turned out to be very gay (there was a framed magazine photo of a guy in a mesh shirt eating a hotdog on the wall). But it was in an awesome location, and within walking distance of work. Hotels were impossible to come by for anything less than $500/night, and this was $200/night for the full apartment with good internet. A+ would buy again.

While I was there I had a great dinner at Buddakan, good coffee at Chelsea Market and Grumpy Cafe (flat white even!), and a spectacular steak at Sparks (according to the locals I was with, the second best steakhouse in NYC).

But the highlight was definitely going to see sleep no more with a bunch of people from work. It was amazing. I recommend you know what you are getting into though, most of the people I went with hated it, I think because it was too weird and creepy.

It is a production of Macbeth like no other: 5 or 6 levels of the previously abandoned McKittrick hotel have been brought back to life and intricately decorated for maximum creepiness. Stock it with actors who appear and disappear through the hotel, audience members who are all wearing eyes-wide-shut-style masks and are banned from speaking, add a healthy dose of ominous music and sound and you have a recipe for a great night out.

Sleep no more: photo by
Sleep no more: photo from
Sleep no more:  photo from
I don't want to write too many spoilers because it detracts from the experience.  I'll just describe one scene to give you the idea.  Towards the end of the night I found an actor on his own and chased him through the rooms of a house as he searched through desks and drawers.  He finally found a bone, and then sat down on a bed in front of a mirror and stitched it into the back of a teddy bear, and when he was done he gently placed it in a crib under a mobile of headless baby corpses clustered around a fizzing light bulb and rocked it to sleep.  Just me and this actor the whole time.

Expect to be chasing actors through dark hallways, and up and down stairs - at one point I followed an actor by crawling through a cane fence, and you should also expect to have pretty much no idea how anything relates to Macbeth.  The actors are all dancers too, most of the scenes involve dancing, and often in fairly confined spaces.  Also expect to get your group, including couples, split up.  The show does this deliberately in some ways that I won't spoil.  I was very pleased to see there were no cheap scares.  The hotel is eerie and creepy but it isn't a haunted house, you don't need to worry about people jumping out at you, it really is a theatre production.

I'm definitely going back, you could probably go 10 times and see new things each time.  For instance I missed the blood in the bathtub scene pictured at the top.  The live music in the bar is awesome, you should stick around after the show, we stayed until they kicked us out.

Update: a friend pointed me to a freakonomics interview, which explores the psychological aspects of the anonymity created by the masks, and some of the crazy things the audience has done in that environment.  You probably want to wait until after you have seen the show to listen to it though, it contains more spoilers.