Solaris – The Lyceum, Edinburgh

Written by David Greig

Adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s novel

Directed by Matthew Lutton

Runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatre until October 5th

A living planet. Capable of rational thought, movement and decision. Universal discovery of a lifetime – or idealist lie to further one’s understanding of the unknown? David Greig’s Solaris adapts itself from the original 1968 novel by Stanislaw Lem, also borrowing, but standing apart from the 1972 cinematic masterpiece from Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. 

Examining the response to extraterrestrial life, a reflective piece on human isolation, David Greig’s (thankfully) gender-balanced cast stands aboard a spacecraft orbiting the titular Solaris. A planet of an endless ocean – yet there’s more. Solaris, perhaps unkindly, offers the crew gifts. Tokens at first, which distort themselves into something all too familiar. Recognisable phantoms sooner best forgotten, past loves and children. As the natures of scientific rigour fight against human desire, the crew find themselves sharing emotional vulnerability.

There isn’t a single scene which does not deserve to be captured, framed and proudly put on display. Hyemi Shin’s design captivates our attention from the opening. Furthering a cinematic motif, the tri-colour palette ebbs and hues across the distinctly clinical aesthetic. Monumentally triumphant, stage management must pride themselves in the seamless workings of Solaris. Capitalising on the cinematic ‘cuts’ over a traditional black-out, the pace of transition is impressive – holding off a tiring of the effect. 

This tantalising setting, through Matthew Lutton’s direction, divides itself through a richly rewarding make-up of staging and cinematic projection. With fewer gimmickry intentions than one may principally suspect, it’s in truth minimal in reliance on effects which do not overshadow stellar performances.

Chiefly that of Polly Frame, taking the role of psychologist Kris Kelvin. Her presence is accessible, easing audience preconceptions as they wrap their heads around the jargonish plot threads. Indeed, both Fode Simbo and Jade Ogugua’s doctors Snow and Sartorius bring different elements of morality to the concepts of ‘othering’ the vistor. Genuine, welcoming and offering levity – Simbo acts against the deteriorating sanity of Frame, maintaining a distinct element of that most dangerous trait: curiosity.

Gracing us through the medium of VHS is Hugo Weaving, who matches expectations – excelling those of a pre-recorded segment. His presence isn’t leant upon, his scenes an enhancing addition of flavourful exposition, without the reliance of heavy description.

Space encompasses the inevitability of isolation, the avoidance of one’s self-realisation, is futile. Greig takes a bold move in what he shapes from the original novel, honing the defiance in being alone, as the planet manifesting itself in human form. Psychologist Kris rips herself between the realms of human connection and scientific standards, drawn to the personification of her loneliness in Ray (Keegan Joyce). An energetic, attractive man from her past, a ghost of regret. In chasing this idealistic fantasy, Kris traps herself further in an addictive pursuit of false satisfaction.

Horror lurks principally in a tranquil yet unnerving underlying score, composed by sound designer Jethro Woodward. Straying from this psychological terror, a fear persists of allowing an excessive negative air to hang over Solaris. Humour is punchy, often natural, but permeates frequently, exceeding dread.

An infusion of stage and screen, David Greig champions sci-fi in a manner theatre rarely carries off. As alien as the narrative may reside, it couldn’t be further from human in construct. With a distinct beauty in design, both aural and visual, Solaris is a pinnacle of theatrical science fiction, and while it shy’s from the genre’s depths of horror, it redeems itself with a prevalent atmosphere.

Tickets available from The Lyceum: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/solaris

Production Photography: Mihaela Bodlovic

Crocodile Fever – Traverse Theatre

Written by Meghan Tyler

Directed by Gareth Nicholls

To be blunt, Crocodile Fever is a smack in the face in all of the best ways possible. Dark, hilarious, violent, gruesome, wholesome and a clusterfuck of religious iconography and blasphemy – and you have to get behind every second. It’s a story of sisterhood; a portrayal of a timeless bond that has stood tremendously difficult trials. It has themes of female and Irish oppression and also addresses sexual abuse.  

Sisters Fianna and Alannah (Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Lucianne McEvoy) are entirely relatable. Rebellious Fianna returns home after hearing of her father’s passing; meanwhile Alannah, a mousey cleanliness freak, is tending to the house. The paralyzing anxiety McEvoy conveys, contrasting Dwyer Hogg’s fiery outbursts, is exquisite.

Tyler wanted to write something that would excite 17-year olds. Well – she has (as assuredly as a man in his twenties can say). They’ll also find it touching, disturbing, and hopefully, beyond the laughs, they see a well-crafted narrative of sisterhood, patriarchy and the ill effects of giving up on someone ‘troubled’.

Rife with imagery, Grace Smart’s set design and Rachael Canning’s puppet creation are exceptional. They perfectly capture the slow, reptilian weight of archaic patriarchy from simple physical movements to the show’s finale.

Holding no punches, Crocodile Fever takes every left-turn imaginable. It doesn’t so much throw you down the rabbit hole as toss you into the gaping maw of a hungry beast. Crocodile Fever will put people off, and it bloody well should. If it didn’t have that streak of rebellious, finger-flipping attitude, it wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.

Photos by Lara Cappelli

Arrivals – The Space on The Mile

Written by Douglas Thomson

Directed by Sarah Mason

We’ve all done it, right, wake up with a raging hangover, not entirely sure of where we are and how we got there? Not sure how many of us have awoken in a Budapest airport, but I’m confident at least two of us have. For Tony, this nightmare doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Separated from his friends, no phone, no food and to top it all off, a ludicrously cheerful, chatty Mel won’t leave him alone.

A play of two-parts, Douglas Thomsom’s Arrivals is in part, an exceptionally subtle and well-written production which strays into a wholly different piece, revealing all which it had kept secret. As Mel persists in bugging Tony, he begins to question the events of the evening, and just why the airport seems empty. As this comedy twists, concerns grow as darkness creeps in.

It’s remarkable what an inventive director can do with two-suitcases and versatile performers. You don’t need bells & whistles when you can gain all the humour you require from delivery and prop usage. Sarah Masson allows Bradley & Cameron to run with their roles, which drives a tremendous amount of characterisation as the production progresses. The pair reach peaks, banging on suitcases, frantically attempting to open them or simply karting around.

Counterbalancing one another, Hannah Bradley and Johnny Cameron accentuate each other’s performance. As Bradley’s mischievous Mel grows in irritability, it grinds Tony’s (Cameron) nerves every-more. As aggressive as Cameron becomes, we understand his frustrations as they are built over-time and not sudden. Bradley’s Mel is as adorably investing as she is utterly unbarring, a tremendous compliment to her performance capabilities. There isn’t a delivery which falls flat, each joke hits the mark, even if some are less successful than others.

Thomson’s script shifts itself from all-out comedy, into an area of poignancy. Not inherently a weak move, it’s the neck-breaking turn into this which sits poorly. So far, Arrivals has been a keen, crafty text which contains hints of the lurking sub-text, which audiences will puzzle over, drawing their conclusions. There seems to either be a fear they won’t reach the correct one, or a need to drive in metaphorical clout.

A true testament to direction and performance, this simply doesn’t impact the overall quality a great deal. Bradley and Cameron sell, with conviction, the descent into an obvious ending with mirth. Its once, simple, well-written wit is muddied with an about-face. It’s a bold move, and the ending has a final knife twist, though overall Arrivals is a finely directed, performance-driven piece with solid humour.