Wizardry and gravity

Needles and Opium tells the story of artist Jean Cocteau and jazzman Miles Davis’s cross-Atlantic journeys to visit each other’s cities – Paris and New York.

The man behind the show’s audiovisual wizardry is set designer Carl Fillion, known for his ability to make you feel like you are watching a film rather than a theatre piece.

Fillion has been working with Lepage since 1993 and says each piece begins, like any good project, with a brainstorm.

He likens the updated version of Needles and Opium to a poem, all told from inside a giant cube with light projections to give the illusion of varying scenes.

“It was two-dimensional in the first version and three- dimensional now because the screen in the first production was square and now it’s a cube.”

Fillion says Lepage was drawn to the concept after seeing it in the show The Dream and asked the set designer to see how it could be developed.

“For me it was amazing, at the beginning we had a basic concept of the cube in Hamlet in Moscow running in parallel with this and it was really fascinating for me to work on two completely different works with the same concept.”

The biggest challenge with such a set is the inevitable force of gravity.

“That’s the biggest concern because the cube is rotating and we are acting in a moving cube, we wanted every element of the show to appear from inside it. This means using many small mechanisms and working against the gravity.

“It’s not easy to achieve, the angle is actually very steep and it’s a strange feeling because you want to have a ceiling and floor and walls and the actor to be in relation to those surfaces but gravity does not follow the walls in this case.”

Fillion began his career as a technical designer working for architects and engineers but found himself in search of something more creative and soon fell in love with theatre.

He says he probably would not be a set designer if he was constricted to classic ideas.

“I love all theatre but personally I prefer to try to find different ways to do things and the technology is now there so I have to use it.

“When I go to see a show I want to be surprised, to see something magical and different.”


Needles and Opium tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at Wellington’s Opera House, 7pm, as well as performances at 2.30pm tomorrow and 6pm on Monday.

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