Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Sleep No More" and Macbeth Without Speech

Back in sophomore year, as we were finishing up our term on Shakespeare, I vaguely remember my class watching a documentary about modern interpretations of Macbeth, some adaptations stressing its dreamlike quality while others focusing on betrayal and its political implications. I was particularly struck by the mentioning of a Macbeth without speech, where characters interacted through movement and the audience follows their path. Since Macbeth is such a dark, violent play, I imagined haunted houses and jumpscares, but delving into some research this year, I found that the production, "Sleep No More," has a much more complicated design, creating story paths for each character throughout the performance that explore the themes of Macbeth in a more contemporary setting.

A tale of murder, reckless ambition, and witchcraft, Shakespeare’s Macbeth intertwines fate with violent tyranny, fleshing out the taboo edges of the human psyche as we follow the rise and fall of Macbeth's reign. Punchdrunk’s production of “Sleep no More”, based loosely on Macbeth, expands upon emotional turmoil as a mute, masked audience roams through an eerie set spanning 5 floors of the 1930’s inspired McKittrick Hotel.   Abandoning speech within their portrayal, “Sleep No More” embodies Macbeth’s corruption through motion and dance rather than language, relying on violent movements and unsettling eroticism to convey power struggles between the characters, transforming the hotel into a 360 degree stage. I believe Macbeth lends itself to dance and unspoken performance well since its core themes of murder, violence, and betrayal are inherently primal, and the strange intimacy between actors and audience members amplifies the effects of violence in the hazy, dreamlike atmosphere.  Movement and emotion conveyed through dance can feel just as powerful, if not more powerful than speech, and evoke more instinctual reactions from the audience. Overall, "Sleep No More" succeeds in rediscovering the horror of Macbeth by encapsulating viewers in its dark, speechless world, leaving them to slowly discover its terror through exploration and encounter.

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