Solaris

14/09/19

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

As soon as I see Solaris advertised, I find myself thinking, ‘How the hell are they going to make this work onstage?’ Most of us familiar with the title will know it from the infamous Andrei Tarkovsky film of 1972. Rather fewer of us will have seen Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake, in which a bemused-looking George Clooney wanders listlessly around a space station, haunted by ghosts from his past.

But this version, adapted by David Greig from Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 source novel, sticks closely to the original concept, though it does take the opportunity to gender-swap the lead protagonist.

Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Polly Frame) arrives at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, which is composed entirely of water. The crew have lost contact with Earth and Kris has been sent to find out what’s going on. She discovers that Sartorius (Jade Ogugua) and Snow (Fode Simbo) seem extremely discombobulated by recent events, which include the death of Kris’s old mentor, Dr Gibarian (Hugo Weaving, appearing courtesy of a series of videos that Gibarian is meant to have recorded before his demise).

It turns out that both Sartorius and Snow are being haunted by key characters from their pasts: alien dopplegangers, created from water, that eerily mimic the originals. Kris too is soon back in contact with Ray (Keegan Joyce), an old flame, who – she knows only too well – drowned years ago… and as she starts to rediscover what she liked about him in the first place, she becomes understandably torn between the strictures of science and her human emotions.

Despite its B movie premise, this production benefits from Hyemi Shin’s extraordinarily accomplished set design. A screen portrays a restless ocean, rising periodically to reveal a stark, roofed set, ingeniously devised so that – in the blink of an eye – it can transform into a different location aboard the space station. The arrival of Ray is at first a source of dark humour but, as the story goes on, it moves into more emotive territory as he begins to question what he actually is and, consequently, his reason for existence.

At the heart of Solaris lurks the grim spectre of loneliness; the story asks how far indivuals are prepared to go in order to ensure that they are loved. Matthew Lutton’s pacy direction keeps everything bubbling along nicely, and I particulary relish the presence of Sartorius’s drowned daughter (Almila Kaplangi/Maya McKee), which gives the events the delicious frisson of a traditional ghost story.

Solaris grips right up to its revelatory conclusion: even habitual sci-fi haters will find plenty to enjoy here.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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