The NAC’s Needles and Opium Mesmerizes

Photo credit: National Arts Centre

Spectacular is the only way to describe Robert Lepage’s reproduction of his 20-year-old play Needles and Opium, currently playing at the NAC.

Aiguilles Opium_053.NFV
Photo Credit: NAC

The play centres around three characters. Jean Cocteau shares his thoughts and impressions on his first visit to the U.S. in 1949, while Miles Davis, in the same year, brings Paris to its knees with his music while falling himself for a lady. The third character is a broken-hearted Quebecer named Robert, who heads to Paris forty years later to work on a documentary.

The play explores a number of themes, but addiction is the key issue. Opium was Cocteau’s drug of choice, heroin for Davis and love for Robert. The exploration of the themes unfolds with the haunting music of Miles Davis playing in the background. While the subject matter is not exactly upbeat, it is extremely moving and actor Marc Labrèche’s tormented Robert is supremely touching. (Labrèche also plays a convincing Jean Cocteau.)

A mix of acrobatics, optical illusions, technology and perfect acting combine to create an unforgettable theatrical experience. The play hypnotically moves from scene to scene as the stage, a cube contraption moves around, actors bouncing in, out, on and off of it. The scenes change with the help of movies, slides and photography projected onto the cube. It is entirely brilliant.

Lepage has an imagination that is off the charts: the determination to make his vision happen and the professionalism and experience to have a production that is dreamy, fantastical and yet firmly planted in reality with all the grit, pain and humour it can entail. Your heart breaks as you watch Davis (brought to life by Wellesley Robertson III) sell his instrument to get cash for drugs and yet you marvel at the same time at how Lepage has created that scenery with photography. And that’s just one example. The whole play will leave you in awe.

Feast your mind, ears and eyes with Needles and Opium. It is the best of the Ottawa theatre season so far and runs until June 6, so hurry and buy your tickets here.