Review: Needles and Opium

I always enjoy going to talks or discussions by the people behind theatre productions, whether they be the actors, the artistic directors or others involved in putting together a piece.  However, I can never decide if it is better to go before seeing a performance or after.  In the case of Robert Lepage’s Ex Machina production, “Needles and Opium”, I think I was glad to go to a talk before seeing the show itself as this allowed me to both fully appreciate the effects on stage as well as get more of an insight into the production process.

Anyway, how to describe what I saw?  It was a magical, amazing, riveting, stunning show, that kept the audience still for 90 minutes. “Needles and Opium” tells three overlapping and thematically connected stories, which I guess you could say had the common elements of broken hearts and lost loves. There are three characters: Jean Cocteau, Miles Davies and a “a lonely Québécois”. In 1949, Cocteau visited the USA and Davies visited Paris, where he meets and falls in love with Juliet Greco. The stories are played out in a mixture of music, words and physical movement.  Years later, our present day narrator discovers things about himself, intertwined with the history.  The piece was first performed twenty years ago as a solo piece, but has been recreated in its present form

The review in the New Zealand Listener described the experience thus:

“Watching the spiralling, two-sided cube on which all the action takes place change from a shabby French hotel room to a New York street to a jazz concert stage creates a sense of the vertiginous progress of out of control lives, lurching between comedy and tragedy, but held together by the wonders of imagination”.

I couldn’t describe it any better myself.  Marc Lebreche played Cocteau/le Québécois with great vigour, humour and intelligence.  Wellesley Robertson III, who remains silent throughout, gives a vital and strong performance as a troubled Miles Davies.

The technicians behind the scenes were also on stage for the curtain call – they were as much a part of the piece as the performers.  If you get a chance to see this in whatever country you live in, go.  You will be amazed.

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