THEATRE REVIEW: Solaris UK Stage Premiere

ImageBringing science fiction to stage is an increasing passion for me and one which was hugely uplifted by a physical theatre performance of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. So when I heard about a production of Solaris I was immediately intrigued. Solaris to most people was a George Clooney sci-fi film, which received a mediocre reception. Before that however it was a much better film by Russian director Tarkovski.

But to those that know it was a novel published in 1961 by the science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem.  It is a hugely introspective piece full of philosophical treatises on the nature of life, love, God, the human condition, and an exploration of the other, that which is so unlike us, that communication is all but impossible.  And this is what is so intriguing – How to bring a short but incredibly dense work such as this to stage and keep it interesting.

Solaris opens with the arrival of Dr Kris Kelvin on a space station orbiting the planet of the same name and it’s sentient ocean which is the source of all the ensuing drama.

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Picture by Foteini Christofilopoulou

As camp as it may sound with a few corrugated plastic screens and lighting that reflects the effects of Solaris two suns, director Dimitry Devdariani has with very little budget created all he needs to give the impression of a mundane work place albeit on a far future space station. It’s muted appearance not making the mistake of straying into distracting “scifi” backdrop but allowing the audience to retain a touch of the abstract.  The method of set change using cast members wearing blank facemasks was unobtrusive and effectively creepy.

The music, which was created for the show, was fantastic, moody and an essential companion to the piece.

For the most part the acting was very good with a great performance from John Exell as Dr Snow and a standout portrayal of Rhea, (the Solaris created construct of Kelvin’s wife) by Tara Godolphin who really bought the stage to life. The weak link for me was Kelvin himself played by Charles Church, which was a shame as the first half relied fairly heavily on him.

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Picture by Foteini Christofilopoulou

The script was very faithful to the book, but I feared that the many necessary cuts might bring about a level of ambiguity that would be too much to recover from for those unfamiliar with the story. Many lines seemed not to have a context but were valiantly delivered by the cast.  The direction itself, suffered in the first half, from something that I’ve seen in many a Shakespeare production, which is that of being too static. This is always a concern when a script calls for lots of talking heads. However, the second half seemed to come alive and was a much easier watch.  All in all I think Devadariani managed to capture the claustrophobia, bewilderment and desperation of the characters and save enough of the psycho technical ramblings to capture the spirit of the book.

To undertake a project of this caliber is an incredibly brave and ambitious thing to do and while I would call it a success, I think it still has a journey ahead of it to be a brilliant piece of theatre, especially at the rather steep price of £16, which was being asked.  That being said I definitely enjoyed it and am glad I went.  It gave me much to think about and definitely made me keen for more sci-fi on stage. Devadariani definitely deserves some props for even attempting to bring something like this to stage.

Solaris is by Circa Luna Theatre and was shown at the Courtyard Theatre.

Reviewer: Monts

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