Needles and Opium: A Review

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of Her Campus uOttawa


Billed as a “magic act” at this year's Magnetic North Festival in Ottawa, this show does not disappoint. That being said, as a play, it left something to be desired.

Needles and Opium written and directed by the legendary Robert Lepage features effects and acrobatics that are enough to leave audience members breathless and mesmerized. However, with so much going on in the special effects department, the story itself was hard to follow.  

Most of the action takes place in rotating cube with trap doors, with wires and harnesses for the actors. The show tells two stories which intersect throughout the action: Robert (Marc LeBreche), the sarcastic Québécois actor, and Miles Davis (Wellesley Robertson III), a jazz musician trying to get over a lost love. While the majority of Robert’s scenes were entertaining and humorous, the show did not deliver the heartbreaking tragedy that it advertised. With exception to the raw, emotional scene of Robert in the therapist’s office, LeBreche’s talent for emotional depth was not utilized.

The romance between Miles Davis and Juliette was quick and underdeveloped as Miles spends more time playing jazz music then being “emotionally tormented”. The narrative was hard to follow; personally I would not have fully known what was going on without reading the program summary. It felt as though the show did not feature most of the things it mentioned in its summary of the show. It was difficult to get emotionally invested in a show that barely let the audience get to know its characters or their struggles.

It is worth mention that the only physical woman on stage during the entire production was faceless, voiceless, and merely had sex with Miles. This lack of female representation left a sour taste in the mouth considering the play was billed as a story of love and loss.

The spectacle of it all was both impressive and distracting. Lepage focused more on the visual effects than on having the stories of his characters fully told. While there were a few moments of narrative action, the show largely consisted of visual effects and the actors on harnesses in the rotating cube. It was overwhelming and at some points I become less invested and interested in the story due to the fact that between most scenes, some sort of long spectacle would occur.

The show does not feature much dialogue, most of which was given to the character of Robert to joke around with. All of his scenes were entertaining, however it is odd that so little of the dramatic action was developed. Miles Davis does not say anything throughout the show, and this makes it difficult to feel for or get invested in his character. 

As the most advertised show taking part in this year's Magnetic North Festival, it seems as though Magnetic North is attempting to exploit the success of Lepage. Other than that, it is unclear why this show was chosen to open up a festival meant to bring international exposure to Canadian plays. Given Lepage’s larger than life reputation, this show is a questionable choice for this particular festival.