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Solaris – Out of This World at The Lyric, Hammersmith.
As part of new artistic director Rachel O’Riordan’s first season and on the back of the critical success of their colonial Indian production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, the Lyric is staging a version of Solaris, adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s cult sci-fi novel. It’s an international co-production, written by David Greig, artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, and directed by Matthew Lutton, the artistic director of Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre. Film buffs will know the Iconic 1972 film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and George Clooney fans the 2002 version directed by Steven Soderbergh; the plot is similar to that of the films being set on a space station dedicated to the exploration of a mysterious planet called Solaris that is entirely covered with oceans. It seems that the planet is a sentient being and able to tune into each of the scientists’ memories creating mysterious flesh and blood simulacra of key figures from their past lives. Polly Frame plays the lead role of Kris Kelvin – gender-swapped from the book and the films – who has come to investigate what is happening on the space station which has been out of contact as its communications systems have broken down. In an emotionally charged performance, we see the locks on her heart being gradually unpicked as she is seduced by the false promise of lost love in the form of Ray or to be accurate a replica of Ray. He is Kelvin’s ex-lover, brilliantly played by Keegan Joyce as a manically ADHD 3D-printed facsimile of a human whose fate is sealed as he comes to understand his situation. Some of the strongest scenes take place between Frame and Matrix and Lord of the Rings actor Hugo Weaving in a filmed performance as Gibarian, the mission’s erstwhile leader before his untimely demise. These take place in the form of videos that the dying Gibarian has recorded that showcase not only Weaving’s fine acting and his character’s anthropomorphic approach to the planet but also Frame’s responses to her erstwhile teacher and her emotionally-driven need ‘to make contact’. Jade Ogogua’s Sartorious is a study in cool rationality and Fode Simbo’s Snow has a youthful sense of authority. They playout their roles within Hyemi Shin’s stark white set design which presents a retro-futurist vision with VHS players and CDs still in use. Set changes are ingeniously speedy as the scenes move between the different compartments of the space station so adding to the pacing of the drama. The play is not without its faults. In the opening scenes, some of the dialogue and performances feel a bit stagey and contrived and the tone can veer unevenly between comedy and high drama. But in the end Solaris is a riveting play about some big ideas; how we choose to interact with the unknown, our responsibility not to pollute new spaces and a meditation on the madness of love presenting a fascinating insight into how we project our deepest needs onto others.
Solaris is playing until November 2.
London W6 0QL
We also loved Noises Off, which transferred from the Lyric Theatre to The Garrick, London West End a few weeks ago. Find out more from our review of Noises Off