The cult Sci-Fi novel “Solaris” by Stanislaw Lem is imaginatively staged as a chilling thriller at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Original book cover, of Solaris, 1961

Let us take you with us to Solaris, planet of mystery, embodiment of man’s latent conflict with the unknown. Man, face to face with his conscience, and with his past.”

The philosophical science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem was published in Polish in 1961, (English translation, 1970), a timeless masterpiece as a dark, emotional exploration of the human psyche.

Poster image for the 1972 Movie directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

The Movie by Andrei Tarkovsky, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, 1972, and the remake in 2002 by director Steven Soderbergh was turned into more of a romantic drama starring George Clooney.

David Greig has now adapted the narrative from page to stage, set in a Space Station orbiting the planet Solaris which is surrounded by a swirling, stormy ocean.  Kris Kelvin, a psychologist has just arrived to investigate the work of the research team and complete the mission, following the death of the director, Dr. Gibarian.

Fode Simbo as Snow and Polly Frame as Kris as she arrives at the Space Station

Kris is welcomed by Dr. Snow on arrival and and then meets Dr. Sartorius when the three scientists, dressed in their green khaki uniform of T shirts and combat trousers, later that evening. It’s a surreal social occasion as they chat and share a bottle of wine, as if Kris is visiting a friend for supper, back on Earth. But soon Sartorius is distant and reclusive while Snow is quietly watchful in the company of this new intruder. As if traumatised by something, what are they hiding?

Polly Frame as Kris and Jade Ogugua as Sartorius

The white, box like set is more minimalist, domestic Scandi design than Star Trek /Tardis spacecraft: smart, sleek and functional, hideaway work desks, kitchen table and beds all slide, silently in and out of the walls in a series of short, snappy scenes.

Kelvin is mesmerised by her first glimpse of Solaris, as we also view a panoramic seascape film of wild, rolling waves on screen – this drops down at frequent intervals, immersing us into the black-out of Space.

The night stared me in the face, amorphous, blind, infinite, without frontiers. Not a single star relieved the darkness behind the glass.” from “Solaris”

A collection of video tapes recorded by the late Gibarian are personal messages for Kris to explain that the planet is believed to be a sentient, brain-like organism. The crew have all been haunted by hallucinatory figures, known “visitors” from their past lives. “We are not alone” is his shocking warning.

A Message from the dead: Hugo Weaving and Polly Frame as Gibarian and Kelvin –

While asleep, she has a visitation herself, waking up to find Ray, her deceased lover curled up in bed beside her. Initially fearful, she needs to understand more about this humanoid manifestation, apparently drawn from her dreams, memories and feelings of loss, guilt, regret.

Kris, Sartorius and Snow with their new visitor “Ray” – the subject of scientific study.

Although irrational, Kris, as a psychologist, tries to rekindle an emotional attachment to find out the truth of their relationship and his death.  This strange encounter is well dramatised – Polly Frame captures the lively energy of a youthful Kris, while Keegan Joyce as “Ray”, expresses a cheeky, childlike personality with bursts of manic, manipulative behaviour unsure of his identity.

The characteristic trope of classic science fiction illustrates the first contact with alien life.  Stanislaw Lem felt that the 1972 movie of his novel failed to capture the extraordinary physical and psychological “alienness” of Solaris.

A view of the alien ocean planet, Solaris from the 1972 movie.

Theatre can, however, create a tangible sense of realism. With an undercurrent of dramatic mood music, bold lighting and dreamlike visual effects, the mysterious, menacing planet is an omnipresent “character” as an invasive extra-terrestrial force.  As the scientists attempt to communicate with Solaris, this ‘thinking’ Oceanic brain is able to access their subconscious and identity as a mirror to their souls.

How do you expect to communicate with the Ocean, when you can’t even understand one another?”  from “Solaris”

Inventively designed and directed with a subtle, slow growing tension, the white, stark, sterile setting creates an ice-cold, claustrophobic atmosphere.  The classic cult novel “Solaris” has been re-imagined with cool, composed performances, up close and personal, as an electrifying thriller, which chills to the bone.

Solaris, a new play by David Greig.

Directed by Matthew Lutton. Cast: Polly Frame, Keegan Joyce, Jade Ogugua, Fode Simbo, Hugo Weaving

This is a co production between the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne and Lyric Hammersmith, London. 

The first performance took place at the Malthouse Theatre on 28 June, 2019 

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (lyceum.org.uk)

12th September to 5th October, 2019

Lyric Hammersmith, London (lyric.co.uk)

10th October to 2nd November, 2019

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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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