Needles and Opium is written and directed by Robert Lepage, one of Canada’s most prominent theatre artists. The play opens in a film-like fashion, with acupuncture points slowly revealing themselves on actor Marc Lebreche’s body. It feels like a scene out of the movie Tron. He then ascends into a star-filled night sky and becomes Jean Cocteau – the poet. The play intertwines the lives of Jean Cocteau, Miles Davis and Juliette Greco, the bohemian singer who had affairs with both men.
The show contains excerpts from Jean Cocteau’s A Letter to Americans and Opium, The Diary of a Cure and the protagonist is a French Quebecois trying to forget a lover in much the same way that Miles Davis and Jean Cocteau both tried to give up drug addiction.
The floating cube set of Ex Machina was used brilliantly, transforming with amazing lighting from a seedy hotel room where Jean Paul Satre wrote Nausea to a New York jazz club and then to a recording studio seamlessly. The actors performed acrobatics at times to make the whole show seem as if we were viewing it from various angles, as in a movie. Trap doors opened and then became windows, beds emerged, doors appeared - all without the audience knowing exactly how it happened.
There were moments of pathos; sad trumpet solos, amusing vignettes, all adding up to an interesting ride through forty years of life in Paris and New York. Various themes were covered, such as Miles Davis’ concern for Juliette Greco and the prevailing attitude towards mixed marriages, the perennial topic of love lost and the unpleasant decline into drug addiction.
Marc Lebreche commands the stage every moment he is on it as both the lonely traveler and Jean Cocteau. Wellesley Robertson was also captivating playing the part of Miles Davis.
With this futuristic technology, there was a mechanical failure on the opening night about three quarters the way through the performance, which was disappointing for both the actors and the audience, but other sessions ran smoothly and the actors were given a standing ovation.
Needles and Opium is a fascinating and brilliant piece of theatre and is a wonderful addition to the Adelaide Festival.