Sleep No More – Tuesday 3rd January, 7pm

My memories of the McKittrick are like a wonderful dream, so I’ve tried to write about them in such a way. I’ve kept details, particularly of 1:1s, quite vague, so as to avoid spoilers, and also to prevent me from clouding any experience you might have had with the details of mine. And forgive me if I’ve mis-remembered anything. Details of dreams are often hazy, and we do live inside a dream.

 

So, cards on the table – aces, of course – this show was the reason I decided I had to document my recent visits. As a result, it’s a show I’ve both been looking forward to reliving as I write, and also dreading as I’ve no idea how I’ll do it justice. So I’m just going to start writing, and I’m sorry if I ramble, and I’m sorry (to the performers? to Punchdrunk?) if my sheer, unadulterated joy at how amazing the show was doesn’t come across. But it was everything I wanted it to be.

Gareth still had a few shows left, but it was my last, so we headed to Ovest (the pizzeria of choice for Sleep No More fans) for pre-show carb-loading in the form of pizza and beer (Moretti La Rossa – highly recommended), and enjoyed the warm, fuzzy feeling that you only get when full of pizza, beer and pre-Punchdrunk anticipation. We joined the queue and Steffi about 6pm, and discussed our plans. There were all sorts of theories about the casting that night. With the performer rotations skewed by the additional shows for the holidays (not to mention the NYE party), there were rumours of not-bald Bald Witches, not-brilliant Macbeths, excellent Porters and others I’m probably forgetting. But having ticked off a lot of my to-do list the previous night, I’d been considering my plan for most of the day, and was pretty set on my plan.

Loop 1 would be with Macbeth – the first loop I ever did at the McKittrick, and one that I wouldn’t even consider attempting loops 2 or 3 once the full audience had arrived. I’m also a big fan of symmetry (The Drowned Man fans will appreciate how much aspects of that show appealed to me), and the idea of my visits coming full circle and ending where they started was a sweet one.

I also knew that my last loop would be with the Porter. I’m a creature of habit, and I’ve always been one for saving the best til last, so finishing my run of shows with my favourite character was an easy decision.

Loop 2, I was open to being drawn elsewhere, but I was thinking I would just start on the 5th floor – maybe catch a bit of that pesky Nurse Shaw – and work my way down, saying farewell to each space in the hotel and trying to commit as much of it as possible to memory so I could close my eyes and revisit the McKittrick whenever I wanted to.

When we got in the lift (first lift, of course) we were greeted by Shane – which tempted me to spend some time with the Taxidermist in loop 2, but that thought would have to wait. I was on a mission. I was first out the lift on the 5th floor, meaning I was perfectly positioned to run down to Macbeth’s bedroom and maximise my time with him before the crowds started to arrive. Getting there so early was wonderful, and having only followed him once before, 2 years previously, I’d not seen one of his first scenes – a solo dance in the courtyard area with all the low walls just off his bedroom. As he spun and climbed and spun some more, there was something vaguely reminiscent of Dwayne’s dance in the sand at Temple Studios. The dim light eventually caught his face enough for me to make out that it was Tim Heck – the Macbeth I’d spotted in the previous night’s finale. I had enjoyed his finale, and something about his expression, almost sneering and arrogant, had made me curious to see more. Even better, this meant that Lady Macbeth may well be Hope Davis again as characters often work in the same combinations.

Before long we were heading down to the balcony which Macbeth watches the ball, and sure enough, there’s Hope holding court in the centre of the ballroom. I hadn’t watched the ball from this position before, and really appreciated the perspective it provided – including the telling glances between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the delights of the choreography that sometimes can only really be seen when you stand back and see the bigger picture. I stuck with Macbeth, particularly enjoying his scenes with Lady Macbeth in their bedroom – their turbulent relationship seemed particularly vivid, emotions raw, thanks to Tim and Hope’s chemistry. On to Duncan’s death, the rave, the banquet, and everything in between, managing to keep up with Macbeth throughout despite the ever-growing crowds. In an unusual move for me, I stayed for the banquet (which usually I try to avoid seeing mid-show, preferring to go else where knowing I’ll see one at the end). I’m not sure what made me stay, but I’m glad I did, as this was when it hit me that my next loop, rather than spending it saying goodbye to a building, should be spent with a Macduff.

I’ve always been quite good at following whoever intrigues me, but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t usually a man. Usually with a beard. So the smart money would have been on Sam Asa-Pratt’s Macduff. But after meeting the delightful Jenna Saccurato briefly at the NYE party, and having heard Gareth talk about how wonderful his loop with her had been a few nights before, I went for Lady Macduff. Besides, having seen a lot of Sam’s Fulton over the previous few nights he would potentially have been applying for a restraining order had I followed him again.

Following her from the banquet, I had completely forgotten that the first thing I would witness would be her awful, awful death at Macbeth’s hands. As he slammed her, pregnant belly first, into the wall, I heard myself audibly gasp. It was the perfect transition from one character to the next, and it stayed with me throughout her loop, colouring her moments of hope and happiness with the inevitability of how her story would end.

Her loop was an absolute joy. Not because it was happy, but because it so beautifully performed. Jenna’s eyes were so expressive, her movements so lyrical, her relationship with Sam’s Macduff so believable. Many of their scenes together take place in confined spaces, and there were some pushy audience members making certain moments frustrating, but while sometimes this would have made me leave and follow someone else, I couldn’t tear myself away. Their dances on top of the unit (shelves? cupboards? I wasn’t looking at the furniture) and in their sitting area were beautiful. At one point in this sitting area, after the ball, Lady Macduff caught my eye, and extended her hand. What followed was a short but sweet 1:1 where I felt like I instantly knew her motivations and fears. I left with a cone of salt (Seriously? On the one night I didn’t have any pockets? I was finding salt in my bra all bloody night) and continued to follow her through her scenes with Catherine Campbell/Mrs Danvers, until it was time for the banquet again, when I headed to join my beloved Porter.

Oh the Porter. Where do I start? Appearing in the original text of Macbeth for a single scene, his appearance in Sleep No More is an entirely different beast, and to me he represents everything that Punchdrunk does so beautifully – drawing on multiple influences and references to develop a complex, layered whole. The “porter of Hell Gate” from Shakespeare’s text, he represents the meeting of worlds.  Under Hecate’s spell, he is the connection between the mortal and the supernatural, knowing terrible things are about to happen, but unable to stop them and complicit in it all. He struck the same chord with me that the Fool did in The Drowned Man – those themes clearly resonate with me.

My Porter on this night was Nick Dillenburg – the “excellent Porter” I’d heard rumour of but not yet seen for myself. Once again, I’d gotten extremely lucky with my choices.

Nick’s Porter was just incredible. His scenes with the Witches, Agnes, Lady MacDuff and Mrs Danvers were great, but where he really shone to me was when he was alone. I loved watching him alone in the lobby, dancing when no one was watching, forgetting his reality for just a few moments. His is a story of unavoidable fate as he does Hecate’s bidding, and unrequited love. He interacts with a number of characters, but is often found alone, on the periphery. His story always leaves me feeling pretty battered by the end. His main speech from his scene in Macbeth ends with the line “Anon, anon! I pray you, remember the porter.” How could I ever forget?!

What made this loop even more special for me, was that soon after joining his loop, he started to interact with me. He handed me the phone as he dashed off to his little room through the back, and I listened for a minute, but couldn’t make out the voice on the other end – I’m still not sure whether there was a bad connection, or if my heart was beating so loudly it drowned it out – so I rushed through to the back room to join him.

Shortly after, in that same back room, he pulled me forward and sent me to deliver a note, folded into a paper boat, to the woman in red on the 4th floor. This was my moment! I knew where she was! I’d be back in a flash and would complete the task in record time! Except when I got to Hecate (and I really couldn’t have got there faster) she was staring down her latest victim. I knew her rendition of Is That All There Is? was coming up, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of the Porter’s loop, so I set the boat down on the table in front of her to see if she broke her gaze to react. Nothing. So I cut my losses and ran back to the lobby. Now I’m just a little annoyed I didn’t pocket the boat as a souvenir.

Back with the Porter, I continued my loop, remembering every moment just before it happened – just like the Porter is doomed to relive his story. After a particularly tense and emotional encounter with the Boy Witch, he offered me his hand. What followed was possibly the most painful and rewarding 1:1 I’ve ever had. I’d had it before, but with this Porter’s unflinching eye contact, his expression, and his transformation, it was somehow completely different. The Psycho reference hit me square between the eyes and as he broke down I blinked back a few tears of my own.

At the end of the final loop, the Porter held the door at the top of the stairs down to the ballroom, dutifully ushering everyone out, and as I walked down the stairs and took my position at the side of the banquet, I played with the ring my Porter had given me, and started to reflect. I’d been through the emotional wringer, but coming to the end of my final show, I was happy. I literally couldn’t have had a better experience.

Except I could. Standing there, deep in the crowd, I felt someone move behind me and take my hand. He’d come back for me. The Porter led me to a spot at the back of the ballroom. He put his arm around my shoulder, and I put mine around his waist, and we watched the banquet together. As Macbeth climbed onto the chair, he moved behind me and put his hands on my shoulders, gripping them tighter and tighter until it was over, when he let go with a sigh of relief. He took my hand and led me away, but he seemed different, looking back at me every few seconds with a shy smile, gathering pace. When we arrived at the Manderley, he held me for a moment, took my mask off and gave me a long kiss on the cheek. As he drew back, he smiled at me, and I quickly mouthed “thank you” at him before he retreated into the night. Macbeth’s demise had broken the spell. He was free.

And ever one to over-dramatise things, so am I. It was the perfect end to my trip. I feel like I have closure of a sort. Each performer can interpret a character in a different way, and each visitor can interpret a character in whatever way they want to, so there are practically infinite interpretations – and if you’ve seen the show, you probably disagree with some of mine. Hell, perhaps the Porter wasn’t smiling because the spell was broken, but because he was tired and it was home time? Maybe I made half this stuff up because I want it to be true?

But that it is open to interpretation is an enormous part of its beauty. So while there are definitely still things I’d like to see at the McKittrick, one of the reasons I love Punchdrunk productions is that they’re too big, too complex for me to ever know all of their secrets.

My final visit to the McKittrick was so perfect, that I’m almost scared to go back in case I ruin the memory.

Almost.

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