Review of 'Solaris'


As a bit of a SF enthusiast I am familiar with the “Solaris” film and the original book written by Stansislaw Lem so when I heard it was, unusually, being adapted into a play I could not pass it up.

Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Polly Frame) is sent to a space station orbiting “Solaris” a planet of vast ocean. The crew, cynical Sartorious (Jade Ogugua) and perpetually worried Snow (Fade Simbo), are studying the unusual planet but have been experiencing unusual events - people from their past that appear every night, “visitors”. Up until Kris' visit they have been fairly simple and non-talkative but when Kris' dead former lover Ray (Keegan Joyce) appears he talks and acts very much like the original with Kris very quickly falling in love with this copy. Sartorious is concerned Kris is projecting her own emotions onto what she sees as simple simulacra which is effecting the way it behaves but Kris is convinced it is a communication device both for the planet to learn from them and they to learn from the planet. As things come to a head the real truth seems ever more complicated…

An incredible, mind bending modern play of this complicated work. Frame does an incredible job as the psychologist attempting to make sense of reality in the face of opposition from the other crew members, with a dramatic character shift from rather serious and reclusive to manic and dynamic in the course of the first thirty minutes of the play. She is able to really sell this shift quite convincingly as well as the justifications Kris gives for her actions to the other crew. We really do believe in her and what she is saying despite the cynicism of the others. It is a physical role that Frame throws herself into with gusto as she brings the play to life. While Ogugua and Simbo, appropriately, have much more nuanced and composed performances that also completely convince. It is only the unconvincing reaction by Ogugua to the nature of Sartorious' visitor in the second act that slightly detracts here.

The set is amazing - A white horizontal box on the stage changing to show various rooms from the space ship surrounded by absolute blackness. In the first act there are a lot of scene changes so the audience sees a lot of the “curtain” (a dark rectangular shield) that quickly descends and ascends throughout often with a projected image of the Solaris ocean surface. This does quite somewhat interrupt the flow of the play but does give it a sense of urgency that tapers off in the more contemplative second act where the scenes are much longer. The set itself is amazing with a bed that appears from the white wall at the back, a sofa and table that does the same along with numerous doors that frequently appear and disappear to suit the scene. Highly modern and polished looking though the look is slightly jarred by a splattering of red liquid across the white floor early in the second act that is never cleaned and continually distracted from the action. Also jarring to me was the use of video tapes for professor Gibarian's (Hugo Weavings) video blogs telling the story of his final days prior to Kris' arrival. This seems to spoil the feel of a techie modern future (a nit-pick for me also was the unconvincing use of a motorcycle helmet as a spacesuit helmet - it just did not look right).

The sound is interesting with a frequent classical soundtrack (Vivaldi's “Four Seasons”) as well as a deep throbbing (particularly loud at one point early in the second half). It really fills out the somewhat clean feel of the play.

Interestingly for the philosophical questions posed here it does not overwhelm the audience. The entire conflict is boiled down to it's essence of a woman falling in love with a voice from her past and how she justifies it to herself and the rest of the crew. Very little time is spent distracting on the debate of what is actually going on but rather the play just gets on with it letting the audience to think it through themselves. The play is unlikely to be boring though I will say it is definitely for older audiences with swearing and quite a bit of fairly personal (and visceral) violence…mostly the tension here is of suspense, not horror (I will also say there are frequent strobe effects that, oddly, were not warned about in advance so those sensitive to this sort of thing should take note).

An incredibly ambitious yet successfully realised adaptation of the famous film and book. Modern and relevant, “Solaris” calls into question what is the nature of humanity and reality itself. The play looks and sounds great.

“Solaris” is 2 hours and 10 minutes (60 minutes for act one and 50 for act two) including a 20 minute interval.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2019-10-11

Lyric Hammersmith

Location: London (England)

Address: Lyric Square, King St, London W6 0QL ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Hammersmith

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8741 6850


lyric.jpg The Lyric is the center of not only live theatre but also in encouraging young people in pursuing a career in the theatre. Recently it completed a refurbishment including the Reuben Foundation Wing with state of the art educational and entertainment facilities. The Lyric makes free tickets available to local residents and workers for every show's first night. Located above the Kings Mall the main classically-decorated horseshoe auditorium is more than 100 years old and there is also a roof-top bar and cafe.