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'Solaris' at the Lyric Hammersmith

A couple of weeks ago I joined my friend at the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith to watch the theatre adaptation of Solaris, a novel by a Polish author, Stanislaw Lem, which my friend had read and thoroughly enjoyed. My friend is on a journey to become more ‘cultured’ so he thought a theatre night would be the fix for now. The Lyric Theatre is not only cool, but beautiful, which really improved my overall experience of the evening. There is also a great lounge and bar where you can get a drink before, during, and after the show. In the theatre, red seats stand out against gold detailing, with beautiful angels and divine imagery adorning the roof and the walls. The set of this particular play had a completely white background with several compartments from which the stage props would slide onto the stage and slide right back when not needed. I thought this was brilliant since it also made the transitions between scenes smooth and rapid.

Onto the play: if I had to describe it in one word, I would say it is strange, but in the best way possible. The concept of the play itself is immensely creative and I frankly have never seen or read anything like it. Here is the basic plot: a space research organisation has commissioned an exploration of the planet Solaris – a planet that is entirely covered by ocean. There are initially three scientists investigating the planet, but the play begins when a fourth one, named Kris Kelvin, arrives to check on abnormal activity in the station. Upon arrival, she finds that one of the scientists, and her good friend, has died from cancer and that the other two are behaving particularly strangely. During her first night at the station she has a vision that cannot be explained: that of a dead lover who now seems very much alive. It turns out everyone has been having unexplainable visions in the station, and so the audience is forced to question who is studying who: are the scientists studying Solaris or is Solaris studying them?

I really enjoyed the play, approaching it with an open mind. The plot can be confusing and if you’re expecting to see a more organized and developed storyline, you might be disappointed. However, the concept of this play is complex enough to justify the disjunction of the plot at times. It is true that there is a lot going on and that the audience only knows as much as Kris knows throughout the play, even though clearly there is much more going on. As Kris becomes desperate to make contact with the planet, we start to wonder whether it is worth it – after all, is scientific curiosity worth suffering over? Think of Doctor Frankenstein, whose almost morbid curiosity brought endless misery into his life. There is a similar theme running through this play and to me, it spoke a lot about the way we treat our very own planet.

Although Solaris is a conscious being secluding itself from other planets and galaxies, our planet is similarly full of living things that we have damaged for the sake of science and progress. I remember seeing a post recently that simply read “sharks don’t infest water, they live in it,” and it really stuck with me because most of us have an anthropocentric view about the world. Even when we try to save the planet, I believe our motivations really lie in saving our species from extinction, but what about the hundreds and thousands of species that have gone extinct already because of our actions and our tendency to infest that which surrounds us? Such questions came to mind while watching Solaris.

There are obviously many themes running through this play and it would best be described as a psychological thriller since the ocean planet seems to have access to the unconscious thoughts of the scientists on the station. Even though it raised issues of ecology for me, this doesn’t mean that that is what it’s about. It also confronts the human psyche and explores our reactions when we have to face our fears. I remember hearing a woman say after the play that she thought it was a tad over-acted. To be frank, I believe I would act the same way if I were in the character’s shoes. What I’m trying to get at is that this play has many, many layers and that it is worth seeing even if you get a little lost in the plot. So, I would recommend that you either read the cult-favorite novel or that you keep an eye out for the next time Solaris returns to theatres in London.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor

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