I went to Then She Fell Friday night, which is an immersive theater experience similar to Sleep No More. I’d like to review it on its own merits, but honestly I didn’t think it was all that interesting on its own, so I’m going to compare it to Sleep No More. (Every other audience member I spoke to was also there because Sleep No More had pinged their interest.)
Then She Fell was smaller on every level – audience (15 people), cast, space, time (2 hours), detail, diversity of content and theme. Well, except cost – a Friday evening Then She Fell cost $10 more than a Friday evening Sleep No More. :P
Not to be too negative – I can definitely see why some people would prefer Then She Fell. It is:
* Much more controlled. You are always guided through the space, so you see everything you’re supposed to see, and there’s no risk of missing major scenes. There’s also no fighting through crowds or peering over heads. And no anxiety over where to go, or fear that you’re missing something.
* Much safer. No running up and down stairs. Minor amounts of walking. Frequent opportunities to sit.
* Guarantees you a couple of drinks and some candy. (The wine and tea were excellent; I didn’t eat any of the food since it probably wasn’t vegan.)
* Largely a series of one-on-ones. You also have opportunities to speak to the characters and show off your own witty repartee if you desire. (I find this unpleasant, but I know extrovert friends who hated the enforced silence of Sleep No More.)
* You don’t have to wear a mask.
* There were a few things I thought were done quite well (though they’d have had a greater impact if I hadn’t already seen similar things in Sleep No More). The use of one-way mirrors was extensive and creative. The woman playing the Mad Hatter, Elizabeth Carena, was fabulous, and I immediately found myself looking forward to her scenes. The mad tea party, with the audience participating, was fun.
So that said, here’s why I love Sleep No More a zillion times better:* Then She Fell was thematically so much smaller. The main theme was falling in and out of love, told through the story of how Lewis Carroll was totally perving over underage Alice. Which, ew. That's not ~darkly intriguing~ or whatever, that's just squicky.
There was an interesting theme of the Mad Hatter struggling against the limitations of her creator, which was more interesting, but didn't really go anywhere. And the Red Queen could have been interesting, but again didn't really go anywhere beyond cliche.
Also, considering it was based on Alice in Wonderland, I was expecting something a lot more magical and surreal. There are scenes in Sleep No More where I'm in awe and completely lose myself in the moment, but nothing like that here.
Sleep No More is epic. That they managed to secure that massive space in Manhattan is a wonder in itself. Every single room is gorgeously, intricately decorated. Some of the spaces are stunning as soon as you walk in - the graveyard, the maze, the ballroom and balcony overlooking it. The skills of the dancers are so much more impressive. Obviously it's a much bigger budget and higher level production.
Sleep No More is so much more expansive in its themes. People keep going back to it for completely different reasons. There are whole characters and storylines that I've still never followed. Then She Fell doesn't have the same replay value - I don't feel like there's much more to see.
For example, just looking at the "romance" theme, which is central in Then She Fell, Sleep No More does so much more with it. Like the marital conflict between the Macduffs is a wholly different take on romance than say, Duncan and Catharine Campbell, or the Macbeths, or watching the Porter watch the Boy Witch. (Speaking of which - so much queer content in Sleep No More, very little in Then She Fell.)
Then She Fell spoonfeeds you; Sleep No More really doesn't. Sleep No More asks more of you, but it also gives you much greater rewards, and achieves much more ambiguity and complexity.
* Then She Fell isn't linear. It's basically a series of staged performance pieces, through which the audience is guided in different orders. By the end, you've seen everything and you have a clear idea of the themes, but it never builds to a climax. The characters don't have arcs, don't change over time, and there's no cathartic moment where the audience and cast comes together at the end.
* There's no risk. You're guided, and you'll see what you see, so you never have to make a choice and deal with the fear and thrill of making your own decisions. There was also never a moment where I worried that a performer was in danger, or wondered if what I was seeing was part of the show or real. (There are parts of Sleep No More - like characters falling down stairs or climbing walls - that always scare me.)
* Because at least half the show is one-on-ones, and you're guided into them, they completely lose that adrenaline thrill of Sleep No More one-on-ones. There was a great article recently about the effect Sleep No More achieves by creating and then breaking its own taboos. Then She Fell has way more "one on ones," but never comes close to the emotional impact Sleep No More gets out of them, because there's no taboo.
* Even though it's smaller, Then She Fell is so much less intimate. A character held my hand, another character had me lie on a bed with an audience member and close my eyes while she told a story. That was fine, but - no one kissed me, or had me put on their clothing, or danced with me, or sobbed on my shoulder, or had me wipe away their tears, or handled me in a way that genuinely scared me. There was no nudity and the sexual moments were comparatively tame. No one did anything that crossed any boundaries.
* I will be totally shallow - Sleep No More is full of beautiful, slim, pale men, with sharp cheekbones and pretty eyes, and sometimes they are full-frontal nude, and sometimes they're violent, and sometimes they cry. Immersive theater is not quite as fun without that aspect. ;)
* I keenly felt the lack of anonymity. Sleep No More is a transformative experience. It changes the way I see the world, and the way I see myself. This wouldn't be possible without the mask.
The scariest, most amazing, and most freeing aspect of Sleep No More is experiencing yourself change as the anonymity sinks in. Who are you when no one knows it's you? You see it in the audience throughout the night - people who are hesitant, hanging back, sticking with their friends at the beginning are chasing down Macbeth at the end. Who do you follow? Why are you so enthralled by certain characters? Why do you keep going back to certain scenes? What does that say about you?
I emerge from Sleep No More looking at the world differently. I want to chase after every interesting thing that I see, look through drawers and windows, latch on to a beautiful person and follow them until they do something interesting, see strangers on the street and wonder what their actions tell me about their story.
Sleep No More is just so much more epic in its impact, in what it makes me think and feel.