THEATRE REVIEW: Solaris ★★★
Lyric Hammersmith. London
Thursday 10th October - Saturday 2nd November 2019
Whilst orbiting the far-away planet of Solaris, a team of trepid expeditioners find themselves haunted on their space mission when they believe the oceans surrounding their new findings are bringing back their loved ones back from the past. Based off the 1961 novel of the same name by Stanislaw Lem, this brand new production from David Greig certainly delivers in suspense, but due to a rather dated story which doesn’t seem push the ideas further, you are left feeling deflated whilst heading back to Earth.
When we join the crew onboard the vessel, we are all mutually introduced to Kris (Polly Frame) who has come to join the team, which currently involves Snow (Fode Simbo) and Santorious (Jade Ogugua), who speak of objects and creatures appearing aboard with no explanation, solely determining that the planet they are running experiments on has a living conscious of its own, and soon Kris is exposed to the oceans when old flame Ray (Keegan Joyce) suddenly appears in her bed one morning. Also onboard are VHS tapes with old crew member Gibatian (Hugo Weaving) documenting his time on the experimental journey before his untimely death, and Lily, the mysterious little girl played alternatively throughout the running by Lily Loya and Talia Sokal, who whilst mute has an incredibly visual memory. Lily’s storyline in particular is a predictable one which is seen coming from a mile off, with no real shock component.
What’s hard with a production like Solaris is the stimulus material, which solely involves at heart the novel published decades before. With so many sci-fi adventures having come more common in popular culture in TV and Film, and in theatre most notably ‘X’ by Alistair Mcdowall, which premiered a couple of years back at the Royal Court, our imaginations are more open to the supernatural and what could exist amongst us. Though Solaris delivers on suspense, there’s no real standout factor which makes the whole experience memorable. Whilst Kris and Ray’s relationship is pushed to the limits, and humanity is tested when Kris must decide on the ultimate sacrifice, nothing in the script feels groundbreaking enough to set waves.
David Greig does a fantastic job in bringing the characters to life through his dialogue, and whilst Matthew Lutton’s direction gives Solaris a pivotal part to play in short bursts during scene changes, to which there are many, it’s with Paul Jackson’s lighting which transports alongside Hyemi Shin’s space station set that truly steals the show. Again resonate with Mcdowall’s ‘X’, the stark contract of emotion and temperature of the planet is controlled and focused so vividly from Jackson, whilst Shin shines on intimacy and essential scenery which when mixing the idea of speed and time duration our explorers have been on board, each location seems thorough and excels in allowing the performances from the whole cast to be nurtured.
Overall, though Solaris technically delivers in bringing suspense with Lighting, Sound, and Scenery, due to the dated nature of the stimulus, Solaris lacks the idea of boundaries being pushed and our minds racing with clues to figure out the underlying meaning, as the truth is Greig’s script delivers all the answers, which whilst makes the production a rounded experience, there’s no room in allowing our imagination to wonder amongst the stars.