Science fiction is a challenge on stage.
The special effects opportunities of the screen are just not there, nor the leaps of imagination plausible in print.
So the Lyric’s new adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s original novel Solaris deserves particular praise.
It offers theatre goers a gripping evening. One that is at times unnerving, but always thought-provoking.
And new star Polly Frame is compelling watching.
Solaris was written by polish genius Stanislaw Lem back in 1961 – nearly 60 years ago.
Lem, a physicist and mathematician turned physician, was a prodigious writer of science fiction.
His fans call him a “mind bender,” and he certainly challenges us to consider future dilemmas.
He had a particular interest in the interaction between human civilisation and machines, and any future contact with alien intelligence.
Solaris examines this last, futuristic, idea, while at times resembling an old fashioned Victorian ghost story. It has spawned intriguing movies, including the 2002 version with George Clooney.
This stage adaptation is even more successful.
The plot concerns a career scientist Kris visiting an isolated space station.
The crew of three are coming to the end of their two year observation of a strange planet Solaris which the station is orbiting.
The planet is entirely ocean, an ocean of vibrating colours.
For the characters in Lem’s Solaris, the planet itself acts as a mirror, a mirror deep into their inner most thoughts and feelings.
Kris is perfectly played by Polly Frame. She brings out the best and the worst of Kris and wins over the audience.
Kris is a trained psychologist, yet seems quite unable to analyse her own psychology.
She arrives to find the station in chaos, with the lead scientist, her old colleague Gibarian dead, and the other two crew in melt down.
They are increasingly haunted by “visitors,” such as the young child mysteriously running around the ship (Lily Loya/Talia Sokal).
Although he is dead, Gibarian appears on video throughout the play. He is played by Hugo Weaving, who keen-eyed science fiction fans will spot as one of the sinister agents in The Matrix.
More recently, Weaving also played the terrifying father of Patrick Melrose, although here his character is much more sympathetic.
In his recorded videos, Gibarian warns Kris about what is really going on aboard the station.
That they are encountering an alien intelligence that is seeking to make contact through the “visitors.”
These are in fact alien creations plucked from the scientists’ own minds.
Ray is one such “visitor.”
Ray (Keegan Joyce with an Australian twang) was once Kris’s lover – long ago when she was a young student before she had given up everything for her career.
As such he is her long lost love. Confronting Ray brings Kris into conflict with her current circumstances.
She knows he is not real, but he seems real, and she starts to fall in love all over again.
Strong performances also from the actors playing the rest of the crew.
Fode Simbo as Snow, drinking too much but just about keeping his act together.
Jade Ogugua as Sartorious, the cool headed scientist who remains the voice of reason throughout the play.
And Hyemi Shin must be congratulated for her excellent set design.
The claustrophobic atmosphere of a space ship is somehow conjured up on the Lyric’s vast stage, and the multiple scene changes are quite seamless.
Likewise, Jethro Woodward’s eerie sound design creates the perfect atmosphere.
Solaris is a very ambitious endeavour. It is a huge credit to the Lyric team for pulling it off.