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The Theatreguide.London Review

Solaris
Lyric Theatre Hammersmith   Autumn 2019

Stanislaw Lem's science fiction novel is something of a cult classic – that is, a book that few have actually read – and the 1972 Russian and 2002 American films based on it have small but loyal fan bases.

But I fear that this stage adaptation written by David Greig and directed by Matthew Lutton will not add significantly to the cult.

On a space station orbiting a distant planet scientists begin seeing increasingly solid apparitions of their dead loved ones, finally concluding that the planet itself has a consciousness that is creating these figures out of their memories and emotions.

Their attempt to communicate with the planet through its representatives, and a sustained ambiguity about how benign either side is, make up the novel and play.

Unfortunately for a theatre audience, there is not much sci-fi to the play, just a few people talking in various combinations on a sterile white set.

David Greig distances us from the action even further by structuring the play on a string of brief – sometimes no more than a few seconds – black-out scenes, while the central character of a male scientist is made female here, to no advantage.

Things are punctuated at regular intervals by the projected image of a dead former member of the science team, filling in reams of back story and exposition, on the way to a carefully unresolved ending.

Stripped, almost inevitably, of much of the novel's texture and depth, what comes across is little more than an awkward mix of sci-fi cliches (with strong echoes of Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet) and Star Trek-level philosophising ('Are we studying the planet or is it studying us?').

With the cast given far too little to work with, only Polly Frame as the scientist torn between studying the reincarnation of her dead lover and jumping into bed with him, and Keegan Joyce as the carefree hippie coming to grips with the gradual realisation he's not quite human, have the opportunity to do much real acting, though ironically the most fully rounded-out characterisation is provided by the only-onscreen Hugo Weaving.

Those few who have read the novel may be able to fill in what's missing here, but the rest are likely to find this version of Solaris too thin and uninvolving to be satisfying.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Solaris - Lyric Hammersmith Theatre 2019