Robert Lepage’s critically acclaimed Needles and Opium closes out the 2014/15 NAC English Theatre Season, exploring themes of heart break, addiction and liberation.
Should you see it?
The first thing anyone can say about Needles and Opium, whether they liked the show or not, is that it is visually stimulating. The entirety of the play takes place within a revolving cube that acts just as much as an ever changing set as it does a movie screen. Each character works to fill this cube as it rotates either by moving with it or with death-defying acrobatics that have them spinning and twirling at all levels of heights across this vast stage.
The content of the play can seem to be, at times, convoluted and complicated. The story itself is simple, yet overtly complicated. We follow three different characters through three different times and we’re always jumping from one time to another following each character as they explore the themes of heart break and addiction. Jean Cocteau opens and closes the show discussing his Lettre aux Americains and his dependence on opium set in 1949. In 1989, a young Quebecois actor finds himself in Paris on the verge of a break down because of his recent heart break. And somewhere in between we find Miles Davis in Paris, falling in love with Parisian singer Juliette Greco, torn because his love to Greco, a white woman, would never be recognized in his homeland, and ultimately the heroin addiction that follows and haunts him.
Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t know anything about Needles and Opium going into it, perhaps if I had researched the play a little bit more and read a synopsis it would have been much easier to follow; however, I found that the transition of characters and story arcs were much more confusing than they really needed to be. It felt like it took much too long for the show to fully pick up and move along theatrically. Yet, there was a completely different aspect of the play that grabbed me and held my captivation from beginning to end, the staging and lighting cues. This show is a tour de force when it comes to the complexity that it took to stage and light. The magic of what Lepage managed to bring to the stage in his cube creation and lighting design were absolutely flawless and made it feel like we, the audience, were on a drug trip as well.
This play is a very physical play that was handled amazingly by the two actors Marc Labreche and Wellesley Robertson III who wasted absolutely no stage space and were able to take the words written and directed by Lepage and turn it into a haunting poetry. While the audience doesn’t necessarily always know what is exactly happening, the actor’s fluid movements and actions keep us entranced as we fall down the rabbit hole with them.
This is a play which really captures the true essence of what theatre should be, a true all around experience which doesn’t beat us over the head with simplicity, yet is so intrinsically woven together to create a tapestry that will get us thinking and keep us talking.
Needles and Opium runs at The National Arts Centre English Theatre until June 6, 2015.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Did you find the story to be more complicated than it needed to be as well? What did you think of the use of technology to make this play a much more intense experience? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below