Solaris

Solaris
By David Greig, adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s novel. Malthouse Theatre. Merlyn Theatre. June 28 – July 21 2019.

Solaris is another remarkable feat of staging from Director, and Malthouse’s Artistic Director, Matthew Lutton.  On an immaculate white set (Hyemi Shin) with walls that magically open and close to furnish cold impassive environments on a space station, three living scientists try to understand the strange, lurking, human-like, presences that have beset their environment.  These disturbances are attributed to extraterrestrial interactions from the planet Solaris and unnervingly they have been, mysteriously, growing in efficacy.  

Enforcing the intense weirdness of this otherness are projections,of what is perhaps the sea, in the form of abstracted heaving and tugging waves (Toby Angwin).  As audience we watch immersive and almost overwhelming projections while scenes change, in the early stages of the work, with repetitive frequency.

The program notes are helpful for the curious who haven’t seen one or both of the film versions or read Stanislaw Lem’s novel.  This staged version does not require the viewing of the films, or reading the book, to make sense of.   However it certainly inspires us to go on and do just that.

Nicely cast by Laura Donnelly, this troupe of performers will be off to present the work at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh.

Leanna Walsman, a beautiful actor, is working as character Kris Kelvin.  As the play opens she is arriving on the Solaris space station to investigate the apparent death by suicide of her friend and colleague Professor Gibarian.  Privately Dr. Kelvin seems able to express tenderness and yet - distrust infiltrates and one assumes she needs to appear in control and expressionless in front of her colleagues.

Jade Ogugua, as resident scientist Dr. Sartorius, has a tendency to comedy that defies her staunch commanding and apparently worried character.  Her journey seems to be about status.  Dr. Snow, an associate of Dr. Sartorius, is played by Fode Simbo.  Both Ogugua and Simbo seem light years more relaxed than Walsman.  Perhaps this can be credited to their playing characters that are soon to quit the space station for earth and home.

All three of these imperiled, caring, disintegrable humans are in a baffling situation.  As ‘characters placed under a microscope’ it would be great if each actor could yield, for the audience, a little more of their character’s subtext and essential emotional journey.

Kelvin is seduced by a ‘Peter Pan’ like character Ray, who as it turns out, is a replica of her long dead ex-lover.  Ray is played, with delightful skittish vagueness of mind and almost absence of physicality, by Keegan Joyce.  There is a fascinating slimy creepy mercurial quality in his characterization.

Hugo Weaving’s Professor Gibarian, just a filmic image, is somehow strangely the most present of all the characters.  Weaving synthesizes the dying statements of his Gibarian to convincing perfection.  He is projected on the back wall - a large face with eyes so full of experience and depth.  Very potently he reaches out to Kelvin, obviously a revered old friend, preaching the ‘greatness of love’.  Despite the fact that he is talking to the ether, he is actually communicating with exquisite poignancy and the unguarded sincerity of someone who has nothing left to lose.  His performance is totally worth seeing this production for.

Flora Feldman, a beautiful lithe young girl, brings a touching vulnerability to the haunting child character. 

David Greig’s The Events was staged at Malthouse a couple of years ago and I have to say with both works my engagement has been far more cerebral than visceral or emotional.   For me Greig’s writing has a cold and dispassionate edge – reflecting an analytical attitude to heightened emotion, perhaps.  Solaris seems to lack trajectories for actors.  With the exception of Weaving’s marvelous recording as Glibarian, missing is the rich stabilizing tapestry of subtext from the performers.  Motivations are confounding and confusing and characters seem to be behaving as if they have no autonomy or trajectory.  And yes, of course this could be precisely the point Director Lutton is trying to make but it’s unclear.

Ultimately it is an enigmatic work lacking the clarity of ‘take home messages’.

This version of Solaris leaves a residue of questions.  Most portent; why does Dr. Kris Kelvin stay on at the space station facing certain death after her associates leave? 

Is it all a search for connection and yes – love?

Intense, challenging and very interesting.

Suzanne Sandow

Cast

Leeanna Walsman – Kris Kelvin

Keegan Joyce - Ray

Jade Ogugua – Dr. Sartorius

Fode Simbo – Dr. Snow

Flora Feldman - Child

Marlia Chofor - Child

Hugo Weaving – Professor Gibarian  (video)

Credits

Direction – Mathew Lutton

Set and Costume Design – Hyemi Shin

Lighting Design – Paul Jackson

Sound Design and Composition – Jethro Woodward

Cinematography – Tov Belling and Katie Milwright

Visual Effects – Toby Angwin

Photographer: Pia Johnson

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