Dial M for Macbeth

SEP 1, 2009

An interview with Sleep No More director Felix Barret

Stephanie Eaton and Vinicius Salles in Sleep No More, a Punchdrunk and A.R.T. presentation.

What was the inspiration for Sleep No More?

I was always excited by the supernatural aspects of Macbeth. For Sleep No More, we removed all Shakespearean text and found a dance language to convey the story. We decided to use Hitchcock’s thrillers as the setting. Aesthetically, his films are beautiful, the wonder of film noir. We also needed a strong music presence, so sonically, we are using a lot of Bernard Herrmann sound tracks.

Has the piece evolved since its inception in 2003.

Completely. We’re taking everything we’ve learned over the past six years since the original run and applying it to a different space. We see it almost as a new work. Because the space in Brookline is so vast and so different, it completely changes the show. It’s going to take over the space. We’ve also doubled the size of the cast. In the original, characters like Macduff and Malcolm didn’t have much of a narrative. We’ve expanded their story lines, so they have proper narratives as exciting as Macbeth’s or Lady Macbeth’s. We’ve also allowed a few characters from Hitchcock films to infiltrate the piece. You can experience it as an adaptation of <Macbeth, or as a living Hitchcock film.

Do you need to know Shakespeare’s Macbeth before you come see the show?

If you know Macbeth really well, it will be obvious. You’ll know exactly what’s going on. We would love those who teach, know, and treasure Shakespeare to interrogate our show because rather than simplifying the play, we’re trying to make it work on a deeper plane. But, even if you don’t know Macbeth, you will find a story. The language is all there; it’s just expressed physically.

What is the role of audience members in Punchdrunk’s work?

Punchdrunk’s core belief is that the audience is the center of the action. In most theaters, you switch off your body and it’s just your brain watching. With Punchdrunk we flip this notion. We bring the body back to life. The audience can’t be passive. They have to go out there and find the action for themselves. The audience enters into the building in small groups. It’s up to them to decide where to go. No one tells them what to do. They have complete power to decide which journey they take, so each audience member has a different experience. And each audience member is also given a prop that makes them anonymous – they become ghosts, haunting the space and the story.

If there were one thing you would want audiences to know about Punchdrunk or Sleep No More, what would it be?

We’re asking audiences to come with a sense of adventure. The more curious you are, the more you’ll discover. There are many secrets hidden within the building. We need our audience to go hunting. You may arrive with a group of friends, but once everyone’s inside, it’s better to go hunting alone. How often do you have the chance to be a solitary audience member with one performer? It’s a magical moment. The more courageous you are, the more delights you will find.

Rachel Hutt is a first-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T./​MXAT School Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University


Image Credit
Stephanie Eaton and Vinicius Salles in Sleep No More, a Punchdrunk and A.R.T. presentation: Stephen Dobbie and Lindsay Nolin.

Related Productions