‘Solaris’ presents itself as a story about loneliness, and our desperation for connection, empathy, and contact. However, what unfolds is a tormented and ugly tale of selfishness, free will, and autonomy. Based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel of the same name, the show strains and struggles towards a bleak, yet underdeveloped, conclusion, ultimately drowning in its own ambitious endeavours.
While the set (Hyemi Shin) and sound design (Jethro Woodward) are fantastic, David Grieg’s narrative doesn’t quite reach the heights it is blasting off towards. It is as though the show cannot decide whether or not it wants to be a horror story, or a deeply introspective meditation on the human condition. It is not impossible to be both, however the balance here is not managed effectively, leading to pacing issues and teasing hints at greatness.
Our main character, Kris (Polly Frame) is seduced by the intense pull of the eponymous planet, Solaris. It sends manifestations of perished humans on board the humans’ space station in attempts to make connections and grow. By the end of the story, she has arguably become the antagonist; clinging to the past and the people that represent it, and trapping herself and others in her own twisted idealism.
It is a fascinating nosedive which Frame manages to present with compassion, but unfortunately, Kris remains a character who is difficult to sympathise with as said nosedive happens so suddenly and without dimension. The conflicts that her behaviour provokes are resolved without much comment, or ignored entirely, meaning that there are very few stakes to become invested in. Similarly, Fode Simbo as Doctor Snow and Jade Ogugua as Doctor Sartorius are sadly not given much to work with. The script barely utilises the characters to their full potential, leaving them stranded in narrative space as bland voices of reason or exposition puppets.
Keegan Joyce as Ray is the star power of this production. His physicality is simultaneously elastic and restrained, and the moment in which his character experiences a dramatic shift in perspective is a highlight of the show. He immediately commands attention, and not just because the script makes Ray the centre of the drama; his performance is outstanding. His relationship with Kris raises many intriguing questions about communication and independence, however there are no answers or satisfying discussions on these themes to be found other than surface-level musing. Science fiction fans in the audience may find themselves treading over familiar ground, kicking up dust rather than digging up treasure.
The show’s set is a gorgeous, pristine and sleek space station, but it is routinely obscured by a black screen that distances the viewer from the action every five minutes. It’s frustrating. When we do finally get to see the set shift, slide, and crawl into place like unfolding origami, it is fantastic, and I wish this disorientating technique was used more to give this beautiful puzzle of a set the chance to shine.
Overall, ‘Solaris’ is a thought-provoking piece of theatre, however I cannot tell if it has lingered in my mind because of its themes or because I am attempting to unite its the pieces together. There is a lot of potential here, but these thoughtful stars are unable to fathom themselves into constellations.
Solaris runs until the 5th of October.
PHOTOS: Mihaela Bodlovic and Lyceum