Sleep No More in Shanghai

Last Friday I went to a production of Sleep No More (不眠之夜) here in Shanghai. My wife bought us tickets. Although she has a pretty good record of choosing this kind of live entertainment, for some reason I was expecting something boring. Sleep No More is definitely not boring.

In this immersive theatre experience, the audience disperses and wonders through sets covering 5 floors while the cast act out various scenes across all 5 floors. There is no dialog and there is no way to see everything. You have to choose which characters to follow, where to go, and hope for a little luck. Going with friends really helps, because you can split up and compare what you witnessed. The story actually repeats as a loop, three times over three hours.

The whole thing feels like a dream, and the sound design enhances this. Plus every member of the audience is required to wear a white mask. This turned out to be really crucial, because it helps everyone to identify the characters in the story you’re trying to watch. It’s also a clever trick by which a member of the cast or the staff can easily disguise himself as an audience member, and the characters in the story do occasionally interact with the audience a little bit.

At one point, one of the female characters was doing a sexy dance in an old style telephone booth (the story is set in the 1930’s). The woman pulled in a member of the audience, then closed a curtain. Later on when she opened the curtain and left the booth, the audience member was gone. I investigated and found a secret door in the back of the booth. I was going to go in, but the staff pulled me away. Although the production encourages the audience to “be bold,” there are definitely places you’re not allowed to go.

Anyway, this was a very interesting theatre experience, the kind that really sticks with you. It’s not cheap (around $100 USD), but entirely worth the price. There’s not even any appreciable language barrier, given that the story is told without dialog. So if you’re in Shanghai and looking for an interesting cultural experience, this one is worth a try. (Not for kids. You will need to reserve tickets in advance.)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Thanks John. It’s on the list for next time through Shanghai!

  2. Looks really cool. I heading to China in August and will definitely put this on my bucket list.

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