Stanislaw Lem’s futuristic 1961 classic has had two previous cinematic incarnations yet until David Grieg’s adaptation it had never been attempted on stage. Perhaps the perceived limitations of theatre (versus the endless possibilities of cinema CGI) were deemed too impractical – which makes this production’s attempt to nullify that argument a valiant one but not necessarily a conclusive one.
In Matthew Lutton’s Production, the set, sound, lighting and projection designers all fulfil their task to transport us to this retrospective vision of the future where ‘hi-tech’ includes VHS tapes and CD’s and control panels resembling something out of Space 1999 (was that intentional?). The pace of the whole evening (a swift 55 minutes each half) is helped by the white multifunctional set which consists of doors, beds, desks and control units sliding out from the walls. But what this makes up for in elision feels somewhat undone by the constant use of a clunky metal curtain being dropped in every scene change – and there were a lot of scene changes.
The plot sees the crew of a scientific spaceship observing Solaris, a planet made entirely of water and orbiting two suns. But Solaris has developed the ability to tap into the crew members inner thoughts and pre-occupations and send them ‘visitors’ who appear either in the form of loved ones who have died or, in the case of recently deceased scientist Captain Gabarian (a projected turn from Hollywood heavyweight Hugo Weaving) a form of cancer similar to that which claimed the life of his mother. In a gender swap from the original book our protagonist Kris (likeable and energetic Polly Frame) is the chief psychologist sent to bring the weary space crew back from it’s mission but she becomes the latest victim of Solaris’ manifestations when it sends her a drowned old flame in the form of Ray (portrayed with wonderfully idiosyncrasy by Keegan Joyce). After coming to terms with the appearance of this oddity she becomes increasingly attached to him, eventually sleeping with him and pursuing what she sees as a second chance to make good the relationship that went wrong first time around.
It’s an intriguing premise and I wanted so much to be moved by the situation the crew members found themselves in but on the whole I felt the opportunity to go deeper into the human psyche and eke out the tension and fears of the crew went unfulfilled. Apparently it was a deliberate choice to keep the acting easy-going and natural but it somehow gave the whole thing the feel of a lightweight 70’s soap opera – which is entertaining enough but ultimately, and ironically, lacks real gravity. Maybe I missed the point of this particular stylised story-telling, in which case go and decide for yourself if this space story has a perfect landing or crashes and burns.
Solaris plays at Lyric Hammersmith until 2nd November. Buy tickets here