The play tells the story of a spaceship of scientists far from home, who have been studying the eponymous planet of ‘Solaris’. The planet is covered entirely by ocean, but it is soon discovered to also be sentient - something the crew struggle to comprehend or understand.
‘Solaris’ is a psychological thriller, but horror tropes are in no short supply. This is particularly true in the opening half of the production. Striking lighting sets the watcher on the back foot, transforming the simplicity of the all-white set (a multi-purpose set rooted in sci-fi, which is undoubtedly not so simple behind the scenes) into the unknown and eerily disconcerting.
Likewise, there’s frequent use of the theatre’s shutter screen to break up scenes. The technique pulls you further into the world of the spaceship while simultaneously focusing your attention on the solitude and mental fragility of each of the characters in the process. The crew of three may appear courteous face to face, but they spend all of their time apart, are largely uncooperative with one another, and the longer you spend with each of them, the more obvious it is how frail their environment, and their own headspace, really is.
At the heart of the audience unease is the pure mystery of the planet of Solaris. This is manifested for the crew of the ship and the audience alike in the form of the brilliantly uncanny ‘Ray’, played by Keegan Joyce, a human, or at least, a human-shaped being, who randomly appears on the spaceship.
His interactions with protagonist Kris - the brilliant Polly Frame - unfold from here and pose serious questions about the morals of human desire and what exactly it means to be human.
If that sounds like a big question, ‘Solaris’ is full of them. The further you dive into the premise of the play, the more you’ll end up pondering the deep stuff. Even the ways that each character views ‘Solaris’ - the planet which seems to dream and feel - leaves you thinking. Their opinions and stance on the unknown entity are formed seemingly in keeping with their role on the ship, but also from their personal character history, however unrelated. Jade Ogugua’s Sartorius and Fode Simbo’s Snow, the scientists on board, take far more analytical, fact-based approaches to the subject than Kris’ emotional response.
As is the case with much of great sci-fi, the play raises an abundance of questions about our species which it leaves you to answer. ‘Solaris’ asks what we are capable of sacrificing and overlooking for our deepest desires. It asks what the consequences can be, it asks what makes a human a human, and it questions the drive of humanity not just to unmask every corner of the universe, but to colonise and pollute it as it goes.
Not bad for a night at the theatre, then. As long as you don’t mind the possibility of an existential crisis afterwards.