Solaris – Lyceum

Playwright David Greig has boldly gone to science fiction for his latest theatrical adaptation of a well known novel.

Written in 1961 by Polish novelist, Stanislaw Lem, “Solaris” has fascinated many down the years as a book, film (three films, in fact), opera and theatre.

Its underlying themes of yearning, loneliness and the vastly unknown, resonate across time (and space) as pertinently today as when it was written.

The premise is straightforward: three scientists in deep space are attempting to study a seemingly sentient planet. What they had not expected was to be studied in return. The planet has the power to tap into the scientists‘ memories to produce long lost loved ones back into their lives.

Hyemi Shin‘s set is stunning. We start with the pounding sea of Solaris projected on screen – mesmerising and inscrutable, the source of an intelligence way beyond human ken, softly breathing to the subtle sounds from composer Jethro Woodward. The set then opens to the blindingly sterile whiteness of a space station, which is a hidden labyrinth of doorways and timeless, even retro, equipment.

In a bold shift from the original Kris Kelvin, the psychologist sent to study the scientists is female, played by Polly Frame. She is saddened to find that the chief scientist Gibarian has died, but in a series of tapes left behind, Gibarian – Hugo Weaving on screen – tells her about the visitors and haunting that have been experienced on board. Our human essence is being copied and replicated.
Kris is at first horrified when her dead lover Ray turns up in her bed, but her ultimate delight at meeting him again is palpable.

Warned by her colleagues, Snow and Sartorius, not to accept this visitor at face value – is the planet manipulating memory and grief in a benign or a malevolent way? – she cannot help but be seduced by the enthusiastic and attentive Ray (Keegan Joyce), who in turn has to face eventually the sobering fact that he is not real.

So, with themes of disjointed time and space, the nature of infinity and humanity this Lyceum production in collaboration with the Malthouse Theatre Melbourne and the Lyric Hammersmith in London is a challenge to producer Matthew Lutton. The production relies heavily on the frequent fall of a black shutter on stage to move us from one scene to the next, a process which is both filmic and disjointed, cutting us off from flowing narrative. Our lives as an interrupted experience.

Visually dazzling, provokingly thoughtful. The essence of our hopes and fears in an indifferent universe. Good start to the Lyceum autumn season.

Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh until 5th October


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