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

Valentina’s Galaxy @ Assembly Roxy

Video rights: Frozen Charlotte Productions

Produced by Frozen Charlotte

Presented by Imaginate and Edinburgh International Science Festival

Intended for viewers aged around two years old, Valentina’s Galaxy speaks in particular to girls in the audience. Inspired by the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, and the first black woman in space, Mae C. Jemison, Frozen Charlotte’s production introduces kids to the universe with immersive detail and visual splendour.

Astrid is celebrating her birthday when a letter arrives from Nasa. Astrid has more or less given up on her dreams of being an astronaut, but with some gentle encouragement, she is reminded of why this was once her goal. This protaganist is relatable, falling out of love with her childhood passion, but also a tad two-dimensional.

As Astrid, Melanie Jordan engages with the children in the audience, becoming more involved as time progresses. There’s a sense that the production team had a little too much faith in well-behaved viewers – furthermore, it feels a little like information’s being flung at the audience, rather than letting us unravel the story ourselves.

With inspiration as poignant as the first female astronauts, much is done to commemorate them. The old banger of a telly in the corner serves to show footage of Tereshkova’s launch and time in space. The set is right out of a 1960s catalogue, but much of the lighting by Gerron Stewart is utilised for tricks and locale changes – kitchen instruments and cupboards double as spacecraft consoles and a plethora of buttons, and a screen in place of a window makes for fluid trasitions from kitchen domesticity to the darkness of space. 

What lets it down slightly is that the design and intent overshadows the story and delivery. Valentina’s Galaxy as a performance is methodical and somewhat constrained, never quite living up to the wackiness of its set.  

A blanket of celestial astonishment canopies the theatre at the end of the production. If nothing onstage has moved you thus far, the sparks of passion on the faces of all those beneath the stars is an embodiment of hope. Valentina’s Galaxy pays homage to the first women in space, while encouraging the next generation of stargazers. This is theatre looking not only to the past but well into the future; it’s worth seeing for its rich, magical visuals, even if it could do with some recrafting. 

Review originaly published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/valentina-s-galaxy-assembly-roxy-edinburgh

Imaginate: https://www.imaginate.org.uk/festival/whats-on/valentinas-galaxy/