Review - Solaris at the Lyric Hammersmith

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

West London's Lyric Hammersmith was the original birthplace of two current West End shows, Noises Off (both in its first production and the new revival newly transferred to the Garrick) and Ghost Stories (now back for a second run at the Ambassadors Theatre). Just as Ghost Stories offers a spooky theatrical buffet of otherworldly tales happening on earth, Solaris - based on a futuristic sci-fi novel by Stanisław Lem, originally published in 1961 - is a story set on a space station that's visiting a remote planet that is entirely made up of a heaving ocean, that channels even weirder happenings in space.

Supernatural happenings are clearly no respecter of planets, and Lem's novel, adapted here as a play by David Greig, suggests that the planet of Solaris itself may have a life of its own that's fuelling the arrival of unexpected visitors to the space station. The play becomes an extended metaphor on the nature of existence.

The space station, clinically rendered as a series of white surfaces like a modern kitchen that changes shapes to become the nerve centre of the place or a bedroom cabin in Hyemi Shin's slick, elegant design, is extremely underpopulated: new arrival Dr. Kris Kelvin joins crew members Snow and Dr. Sartorius on board after the death, from cancer, of Gibarian (though he lives on in video diary footage that regularly punctuates the action and gives some of the back story to what's preceded Dr. Kelvin's appearance there).

The play, structured as a series of short scenes throughout, is fragmentary and strange, and especially in the first act it seems a slow burn as we become acclimatised to the reduced pace of life there. It's also oddly repetitive.

But slowly, as the nature of the visitors emerges, Matthew Lutton's production starts to exert a dark, gripping hold. This international collaboration between Australia's Malthouse Theatre (where the show premiered in June), Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum and the Lyric Hammersmith moves from a baffling to a theatrically enticing experience and suggests that by going beyond Hammersmith and even our own planet the Lyric is heading into fertile new territories. 

Solaris is at the Lyric Hammersmith to 2nd November.

Solaris tickets are available now.

Originally published on

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