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  fabled”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 the case?

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.

Sleep No More – Monday 2nd 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.

 

I had no intention of being in the McKittrick on Monday. I’d planned a night off. But after losing a loop on Saturday at the NYE show, and with only one show remaining, I was getting antsy. How was I going to do everything I still had to do in just 3 loops? I needed to spend more time with the Taxidermist, Fulton, and Speakeasy, I still had to do an Agnes loop, the Macduffs, and I had a vague plan to spend some time with Macbeth, and I couldn’t leave without spending some time with the Porter. It just wasn’t possible.

Over dinner at Momofuku (if you’re in NYC, you MUST go – have the Momofuku Ramen, and the truffles, and buy more truffles to take away) on Sunday, Gareth mentioned he might try to get a ticket for the Monday. It was sold out, but sometimes if you call during the day they have Max’s list tickets. They’re expensive, but it might be worth it. I couldn’t bring myself to spend quite that much on a standard show.

Fast forward twelve hours, and I’d decided I was up for it after all, and Gareth and I were co-ordinating our efforts – emails, calls, incessantly checking the website. But nothing. Standby was our only option.

By 5.50pm, we were at the McKittrick, making sure Gus and Mike on the door knew we were looking for tickets, and ensuring we were first on the standby list. By the time they started letting people in at 6.45pm, there were about 10 people on standby, and we’d all been told to go to the bar and come back at 8pm, once everyone had been let in. Gareth was ready to go, deciding we weren’t paying full price for the two loops we’d see if we got in at 8pm, but if Punchdrunk has taught me anything, it’s to follow my instincts, and my instincts told me to stay.

Within 5 minutes, Mike was having a quiet word with a colleague wearing a dapper shirt and carrying a radio, and gesturing at us. Dapper-shirt-radio-man said if we joined the back of the queue, and gave a code name when we got inside, there would be two tickets waiting for us to purchase. SUCCESS!! But fortune favours the bold, so I asked (nicely!!) if we could go straight in seeing as we’d been first in the queue, and were very cold and wet, and again, he said yes. We found out Dapper-shirt-radio-man’s name was Dom, thanked him profusely, and raced inside.

(I will confess we snuck in the first lift, despite getting a 2 and a 3 card. Would you believe me if I said we forgot we didn’t have aces?!)

So, on to the show! Firstly, I noted that Doug Burkhardt was manning the lift, which was excellent news for me – this meant that sometime later he would emerge as the Taxidermist and I could finish what I started on Saturday.

Feeling incredibly lucky and still buzzing from our standby success, I headed off to find Agnes (Taylor Drury), with a quick detour to check in on Fulton. I’ve followed Agnes before, but often struggled with the huge crowds that gather, but this was my night. I found her in her bedroom, and dutifully followed. Within a few minutes, she was heading in for a 1:1. Having only joined her recently I had no expectations, but she took one look at the couple holding hands next to me, and grabbed me instead. I really loved her 1:1 – the location, the lighting as she stood in the doorway, the words from Rebecca. And the way it ended and I emerged slightly disorientated with a locket around my neck.

Knowing she wouldn’t come out for a couple of minutes, I quickly checked in with Fulton again, and also Speakeasy and Hecate, before returning to Agnes – but I timed it wrong, and returned just as she went in for another 1:1. I was near the front of the group again, and stood aside to let someone else through. Again, I was next to a handholding couple, and couldn’t stop myself giggling when they looked at her hopefully and both held their hands out to her, and she reached over their shoulders to invite another white mask in. Not that I have an issue with public displays of affection, but it goes against Punchdrunk’s advice of going it alone, and in a building full of tight spaces and narrow corridors where it’s easy to lose characters if you hesitate, handholders are irritating, inconsiderate, and sometimes even dangerous as they can cause pile ups.  I followed Agnes’ loop through her scenes with Fulton, the Porter, Speakeasy and Hecate, finally parting ways after Hecate had harvested her tears.

My other big plan for the evening was the Taxidermist, but as he wouldn’t arrive til some way through the second loop, it was time to wander, and to tie up some loose ends. I popped up onto the 5th floor in the hope of running into Nurse Shaw, but no such luck. As I passed the Matron’s hut, the area was completely empty, and I saw Ginger Kearns peer out and lock eyes with me, but I kept moving in case she invited me back in and saw rhe same face she’d seen a couple of nights before. I popped down to see my favourite character, the Porter, this time played by Nick Bruder. Having seen his scene with Agnes, it was clear he was a different breed of Porter – less of a victim, more sinister perhaps, but while I was intrigued (and had I more shows left, I would have stayed a while), I knew he wasn’t “my” Porter. So I headed back up to the town, and spent the first part of the second loop with Fulton (Steven Apicello), finally filling in the blanks in his loop. Sometime during my time with Fulton, I must have gotten confused about timings again, and I kept popping in to see Taxi, but he was never there. Once Fulton got to a part of the loop I knew particularly well, I started wandering the street, and was quite content just watching the world go by, noting the occasional character passing through and just drinking in the atmosphere, appreciating the complexity of the interweaving stories as characters moved around me. The street really feels alive sometimes.

And then finally, there he was. I’ve followed Taxi a couple of times before, and always really enjoyed observing the different takes on him – sinister, lonely, sad. A side note, I know Sam Booth’s been playing Taxi in Shanghai, and I would LOVE to see what he does with the part. But this night, after a partial loop with Doug’s Taxi on NYE, I felt like I finally started to get him. He was somehow more open to his followers, his eyes expressive. Before long, I was being led into his 1:1 room – a room I’ve only been in a couple of times, when following a certain messy Boy Witch. This is one of the 1:1s I’ve enjoyed the most – the way he leaves you along for just a moment and plays with your senses creates by obscuring the background noise, the changes in lighting – it creates such suspense and anticipation, maybe a touch of fear. It also features some of my favourite words from Macbeth. I made my choice, and was left with an unexpected souvenir!

So on the off chance Doug ever googles his name, finds and reads this (he won’t), I apologise for my sticky hand when you led me to the rave – it was from picking a broken bit of needle from my mouth so I didn’t swallow it!

In the rave, he held my shoulders, gripping tighter and tighter as Hecate summoned her forces. As she exhaled and he let go, I was too slow in turning to follow him, but having seen that bit of his loop before, I decided to stay and watch, as he’d intended me to, before returning to join him a few minutes later to complete his loop. As the show came towards its end, we were with Taxi in his back office. I’d somehow not really noticed before that Taxi’s back office is so close to both the Boy and Bald Witches’ post-rave clean ups end of the show, and there was something thrilling about these characters all being so close together, but worlds apart.

One by one, the Witches left, along with all of their followers – and some of Taxi’s followers who clearly needed to know what they were all rushing off to. But I was really enjoying my last moments with this introverted, curious character. He took me by the hand and led me to the finale, hurrying down the stairs with a sense of sadness and inevitability, as well as genuine concern when my shoulder had a run in with a wall. He walked me through the crowd to a spot at the front before he pressed the crowds backwards and headed off to the side, and I took in the last moments of the banquet. I was enthralled by Hope Davis’ Lady Macbeth for the short time I saw her, I’d not seen Tim Heck before, but seemed he would be a strong Macbeth too.

For a show that I very nearly didn’t see, it was wonderful. I tied up all my loose ends with Fulton, Speakeasy, Agnes and Taxi, and left on the biggest high – fuelled by a few glasses of prosecco served by the delightful Birdie. We thanked them all on the night, but I really can’t thank the staff at the McKittrick enough for their help in making Gareth’s and my dreams of Manderley come true that night. Dom, Gus, Mike, Birdie – you really know how to look after your guests.

New Year’s Eve at the McKittrick – Decadent Dinner, Sleep No More and PARTY!

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.

 

I’m not a fan of New Year’s Eve. It’s routinely disappointing, so I’ve spent the last few quite content, on the sofa with my husband, drinking champagne and watching Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. I save a small fortune, and my expectations are nice and low so disappointment is unlikely.

So what did we do? We went to the bloody USA. For the most expensive and hotly anticipated New Year’s Eve I will likely ever have. So no chance of this going wrong…

But if I can trust anyone to deliver the goods, it’s Punchdrunk. So when tickets went on sale for Supercinema’s Moulin Rouge, we dutifully purchased ours. I selected to dress as the Absinthe Fairy, Gareth as a Bohemian and Ally in all black. A few weeks later, the dress code changed from Moulin Rouge to a more generic Parisian Masquerade, but I was assured the original costume options would still apply, so a sequinned green dress and fairy wings were soon acquired, and our excitement started to grow.

We arrived around 6pm, and were quickly ushered up to The Heath – I had dined here back in 2014, but had forgotten quite how special a venue it was. We were seated right at the front, next to the stage, and next to a lovely couple of girls who had flown in from Las Vegas – having never seen the show before – for the occasion. The food was excellent, the company was wonderful, and the wine and tequila were flowing. Nick Atkinson and Elizabeth Romanski were fabulous hosts, treating us to a couple of songs and plenty of laughs, and our meal was punctuated by a short dance piece in two halves by the Paisley Players – featuring some of my favourite performers, in particular my Stephanie Crousillat (my Bald Witch from the previous night), and Evelyn Chen whom I’d hoped to see more of. I’m glossing over this as it’s hard to describe, but it was perfect for the Parisian theme.

But before long, it was showtime…

Knowing that the show would be full of party-goers, I had decided not to do anything too important in this show, but rather to dart between characters that I wanted to get to know better and fill in some of the blanks in loops I had only partially seen. I spent my evening almost entirely in the town, flitting between Speakeasy, Fulton, Taxidermist, and Agnes with a few moments with the Witches and Hecate. While this wasn’t my most fulfilling show (as I tend to be loop loyal rather than dart around like this), I did catch some lovely moments, including seeing a lot more of Fulton, and realising that he’s hiding in plain sight in the shadowy walls of the town, or watching Macbeth from behind the box maze into the speakeasy. I joined Speakeasy (Nick Bruder) for a while, and he’s one of the more fun Speakeasies I’ve followed – I enjoyed my shot of water nearly as much as my shot of whiskey! I then headed through to follow the Taxidermist (Doug Burkhardt) and, typically, joined him just as he went off for a 1:1, but came back a few minutes later and followed him for a short while, but before long, realised we were going downstairs. It was only the end of loop 2, but we were going to the banquet? I was trying to work out if I’d drunk more than I realised and miscalculated, but no – it was a 2 loop show. And I had unfinished business with the Taxidermist…

I watched the finale from my new spot at the side, and Duncan took my arm and led me to the Manderley, wishing me a Happy New Year with a kiss. And then the party began…

I won’t go into too much detail, as I could never do it justice, but WHAT A PARTY!

Entertainment spanned 4 floors, and many of the iconic sets – they did an incredible job turning it around from show to party so quickly! We started in the ballroom, where a range of Punchdrunk dancers joined a fab singer and entertained us on the main stage, hosted by Nick Atkinson. The balcony featured a photo booth, the Porter’s lobby was transformed into another bar with a live band, yet another band was playing in the Manderley, then up on the 3rd floor a brass-led band played in Macbeth’s bedroom while guests posed for photos in the bathtub, and some of the performers acted out a great little original scene on a purpose built stage in the adjacent space. A further climb up onto the 4th floor led us into the town, where a kind of anti-Fulton (Sam Asa-Pratt) and another character were inhabiting some of the shops and acting out short scenes while guests took photos in the street and some were lucky enough to have their portrait painted. If you want to get a real feel for how they party at the McKittrick however, you really need to check out their gallery from the evening, but I’ve included a few of my favourites below.

We partied til the wee small hours, checking out all the floors, chatting with wonderful people including cast members Jenna and Emily, Punchdrunk superfan and blogger extraordinaire Dee Anne and my new queue friends Steffi, Sabrina and Morgan, and taking advantage of the open bar. When Ally and I finally left, we were given one final treat – the most fabulously festive Uber – we tipped our driver SO well as a thanks for the crazy decorations and free sweets!

So this might be the best New Year’s Eve I will ever have. And it’s put us in the mood for one of their Halloween parties…

Sleep No More – Friday 30th December, 11pm

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.

 

I was really looking forward to this show after the great first show I’d had. Late shows are always my favourites – they’re usually a little quieter, but they also feel even more dreamlike, dark, and claustrophobic. Though that might all be in my head!

Ally and I arrived around 10pm, having had a bit of a rest after Fiddler, and joined the queue, where we also met up with Gareth. We started our pre-show ritual of discussing previous shows, and any plans we had for this one, and listening to Gareth talk following Evelyn’s Sexy Witch the previous night solidified my plan to follow a female witch, likely Bald Witch, as I had seen less of her loop than Sexy Witch.

Again, there was no lift, so on entering the hotel, I raced downstairs to see the witches’ pre-ball dance, and was instantly taken by Stephanie Croussillat’s Bald Witch as she eyeballed me before taking another white mask for a short dance. I knew I’d found my girl, and followed her, completely under her spell, for my entire first loop.  Her dancing was sublime and her storytelling and expressions captivated me. From losing her hair, to resetting the forest, to her dance in the chapel – I was completely bewitched. She was strong, playful, sexy. I enjoyed some intense eye-contact, I dried off her shoulders following the rave, and as she joined Sexy Witch in their little room off the Porter’s lobby to get ready for the next ball, she invited me in, ran my hands all over her head, and kissed the palm of my hand. I was ready to do her bidding – and very nearly followed her into the second loop, but with limited shows ahead of me, it was time to move on.

Our pre-show chat in the queue had made me realise how little I knew of the 5th floor. When Ally mentioned a mutual friend of ours being taken in for a 1:1 with the Matron, I realised I’d never really spent much time in the infirmary or given much thought to the characters that reside there – so it was time to go exploring. As I walked past the Matron’s hut, she (Ginger Kearns) was reading, peering out, and locked eyes with me. A moment later, she took another white mask in for a 1:1, but while the New York audiences are fickle and tend to disappear when doors close, us Drowned Man fans seem more likely to persevere, and I found myself waiting. A few minutes later, with no one around and the previous 1:1 recipient long gone, another nurse came running through the maze, and the Matron ran out to meet her. There was a beautiful moment where they met through the maze, reminiscent of other moments where Punchdrunk worlds collide – Wendy and William meeting through the gates at Temple Studios, Marshall and Mary through the mirror. As the Matron ran back to her hut, she looked at me again, and a moment later, opened the door and invited me in. What followed was a familiar tale – one which I’d heard twice before in Temple Studios (once from the Fool, once from Conrad) – but was again completely different in this new context.

Before long, it was time to move on with the 3rd loop looming, and my instincts were telling me to do another female character and to try to see something new rather than a “safe” loop, so I decided that Mrs Danvers/Catherine Campbell (Ryan VanCompernolle) was my next target as I had only bumped into her briefly in the hotel before, when I was following Banquo back in my second ever show. Knowing the story of Rebecca however, I knew she’d be worth following. I found her in Duncan’s bedroom, where she set a metronome ticking, and throughout her loop – where she interacted with Lady Macbeth before the ball (a new scene for me), and made Duncan’s (slightly odd) second bed. A fellow white mask was getting very close to her during her scene with Lady Macbeth, and during the ball, some other white masks stood far too close to the dance which interfered with Lady Macduff’s fall – Danvers stayed incredibly composed, but I imagine she was getting frustrated and shortly after she went into a locked room alone, whispering to a black mask on her way in. I imagined this was when she was due to do a 1:1, but perhaps needed the time alone to re-compose herself, but being loop-loyal, I wanted to complete her story, so my Temple Studios conditioning made me wait for her, and a couple of minutes later she emerged and I dutifully followed, and gradually a smaller, more manageable and considerate group formed around her. She must have appreciated my loyalty, as a few minutes later she took me in for a 1:1 in the same room Banquo had taken me into in my second show – much to my surprise as I had assumed this was meant to happen earlier in the loop. I stuck faithfully with her as she teased and tortured Lady Macduff with the milk, stirring it with a rhythmic clattering of spoon on glass reminiscent of the metronome, and as she ate toast and drank tea with the Porter. Her loop may not be my favourite in its own right, but Ryan was brilliant, and she set me up perfectly for the loops I would do with Lady Macduff and the Porter a few nights later. At the end of the show, she stood at the door with the Porter, and pointed us all down to the finale, where I discovered a new spot at the side of the banquet. It might slightly ruin the illusion being able to see the mechanics of the finale, but the lighting is just stunning. And this spot proved very lucky for me over my remaining shows.

Sleep No More – Thursday 29th December, 10pm

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.

 

After a day of shopping and eating (oh that pizza at Lombardi’s…), I arrived at the McKittrick nice and early, and joined Gareth – who’d already done the 6pm show – in the queue, where we also met a couple of friends of his. And that’s where it began. I was looking forward to my shows, but as soon as I stepped into that queue and started discussing plans of who to follow with fellow fans, the excitement and anticipation started to grow.

I decided quickly that I would do a loop with a slightly less-followed character (likely Malcolm) to ease me back in, but wanted to leave myself open to following whomever attracted my attention.

We checked into the hotel, collecting our ace cards – our reward for arriving early and queuing in the cold – and following that dark, dark maze until the Manderley opened up in front of us, like the moment The Wizard of Oz transforms from black and white into glorious technicolour. Before long, the aces were called and my heart started racing. There was no lift, so it was a simple decision – up, or down. As my first visit in over a year, I’d kind of forgotten where everyone would be before the ball, so I headed up, and I quickly discovered the Macduffs, and spent a couple of minutes with them, but instantly knew they weren’t the right way to start my first show, and I raced down to the ballroom to watch the first ball of the evening, check out the casting of the court characters, and see who caught my eye. I could barely stop myself grinning under my mask at the joy of being back in this glorious place. I tried to remind myself which man in a tux was which, clocked Adam Griffith was playing Malcolm, and decided that he would be my second loop, and headed up to the town to get my head around the goings on up there.

I checked in with Speakeasy, Fulton and Agnes, gently reacquainting myself with the corridors and hidden rooms, before finding Malcolm – just as he took someone in for a 1:1. I popped off for a few more minutes with Speakeasy, before heading back to join Malcolm, and was lucky enough to be one of the handful of people in the interrogation room – one of my favourite scenes which I’d only seen once before. I guess it helped that I’m reasonably fit at the moment, as I was able to stay quite close as he went up and down the stairs (which was more energetic than I expected, thanks to Adam’s long legs). I stuck with him for all of my second loop, enjoying his scenes with Duncan, Banquo and Macduff (which I’d seen before, but practically forgotten), and was lucky enough to be taken in for his 1:1 before I finally left him at the point I picked him up towards the end of the loop.

I’m not sure why, but I suddenly knew exactly how I should spend my third loop – Hecate. One of the most important characters to the world of Sleep No More, it was a great way to set up my remaining shows – particularly as I knew I’d be seeing the Porter at some point in the coming days. It was about time for the second rave of the evening, so I knew exactly where to find her, and was treated to Sexy Witch’s post-rave dance on the bar – I wish Evelyn Chen had been on again during my visits so I could have done her whole loop. Onalea Gilbertson’s portrayal was utterly bewitching – pun intended – and the way she commanded her space was incredible. Walking at just the right pace, casting the most stunning shadows and finding the most beautiful light as she glided into effortless poses, the audience eating out of her proverbial hand. I was taken in for a 1:1, where I emerged with a soggy paper boat and a faint kiss on my mask, and stuck with her until the start of the third rave of the evening, when I went exploring to reacquaint myself with the rest of the venue.

Starting up on the 5th floor, I worked my way down, reminding myself of some of the secrets the McKittrick keeps, and finally joined the very end of Malcolm’s loop to follow him down to the final banquet, where I took a spot near the middle at the front. Not my favourite place to watch it from, but the impact of being close enough to see the change in Macbeth’s eyes in the final moments is quite something – I didn’t follow Erik Abbott-Main during my visits, but his finale was probably my favourite.

I headed back to The Manderley with that inimitable feeling you get after a great show, excited for what might unfold in my remaining visits.

McKittrick Follies – 28th December 2016

Landing in Newark about 6pm New York time, I didn’t really have plans for our first night in the city that never sleeps other than grabbing some food and getting an early night to set me up for the next week.

But Gareth had other ideas, and fancied a trip to check out the McKittrick Follies – and I’m so glad we did! A farcical take on old-school cabaret with a Belarusian theme, it was hosted by the delightful Nick Atkinson and Ginger Kearns – their rendition of I Love Belarus was a real highlight (WHEN IT’S SNOWING!).

It was the perfect way to reacquaint myself with the Manderley Bar – though nothing could quite prepare me for the week of visits to the McKittrick that followed.