Immersive Plays as Adaptations

Hello all,

I just wanted to share some information on three immersive performances that I have been to with John, since all of them are adaptations in some way. We’ve already talked about Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More in class, so I won’t describe too much about it. It’s an adaptation of Macbeth that has no dialogue. Audience members wander at their own will, following characters from Macbeth, searching for clues, eating candy from candy jars (you can really do this!) watching interpretive dance, and running up and down at least 4 flights of stairs. This version of Macbeth is set in the 1930s, with a medical narration added to is (one floor is filled with hospital beds and an asylum-like room.) At one point a man was naked and dancing with a bull’s head, so I haven’t really interpreted how everything relates to Macbeth. I definitely recommend it. It’s a surreal experience! Here is the website:

Another play, which seems to have been inspired by Sleep No More, is Third Rail Projects’ Then She Fell. This play uses a hospital ward as it’s setting as well. The play is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland– it uses both the fictional story and Lewis Carroll’s (otherwise known as Charles Dodgson’s) strange relationship with the real Alice Liddell as it’s basis. With only 15 audience members at each performance, this play is extremely immersive- there are times when one audience member will be interacting in a room with one or two of the actors by themselves. They take you into wonderland, allowing you to drink, taste, and interact in this world. (Some things that I did during the performance: I painted a white rose red while the “White Rabbit” watched me, participated in tea party with the Mad Hatter, and became Lewis Carroll’s personal scribe. John had very different experiences, including holding a mirror for the Queen of Hearts, while I secretly watched him from a one-way mirror.) Recently, the performance area expanded to a three-floor building. When I saw it, it was only on one floor. I definitely want to see it again! The website is here: Regarding adaptation, it’s interesting that this play re-interprets parts of Carroll’s text, but also uses historical evidence (like letters between Dodgson and Liddell) to create other scenes between the fictional Alice, and the real Alice (played by two different actresses in the play.) Lewis Carroll is also a character. 

I feel I must bring up another immersive play that also uses history as it’s basis, although I do not recommend this one: Cynthia von Buhler’s Speakeasy Dollhouse: This play was nowhere near the quality of the other two, but the setting was the best part-a 1930s speakeasy is the setting of this play. The events that take place in the performance are based on von Buhler’s grandfather’s murder before her birth (he owned a bakery that was a front for a speakeasy.) Von Buhler attempts to use newspaper articles and clippings about the murder to solve the mystery, but something about this play was a bit awkward and I never felt fully immersed. Still, an interesting concept for our course- adapting from historical events. Recently, a second part of the play was added, about Lincoln’s death. 

Although all are incredibly different, the three performances above all ask that audience members take part in the performance- the experience of the audience member will be different each time they see a repeated performance of any of the plays above. How does this shape how we define adaptation? Furthermore, what would the experience of, say, Then She Fell, be like if one was unfamiliar with Lewis Carroll’s personal life and his work? How far can a performance go while still being considered an adaptation- for example, Sleep No More has no dialogue- yet is based on a Shakespeare play, which is nearly all dialogue. Still, the basic heart of the tale is there. 

I’ll stop here, since I have finals to work on, but I would love to talk about these performances with anyone that may be interested. There is definitely a lot more to say on this topic! Thank you! 


3 thoughts on “Immersive Plays as Adaptations

  1. Thanks Alexandra,
    Yes, I’m sure we’d all like to hear more about your and John’s “immersions.” While you’re all too young to remember, I wonder if current immersion might bear some relation to the “living theater” movement (Julian Beck, Artaud) from the 1950s & 1960s, though I think still going under reduced circumstances.

  2. I’m highly intrigued by Then She Fell. One of my roommates is really into Alice adaptations, so we might try and see that.

  3. Thank you for the link, Professor Greetham. I am really interested in learning more about the “living theater” movement and look forward to perusing the website! And Aya, let me know if you have any questions about Then She Fell. I want to see it again too, since it is in a new location (and it seems that every time you go to it, you experience something different!) Here is an NYT review of the play in case you’re interested!:

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