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Doffed cap must be raised for valiant production of Stranislaw Lem’s difficult source novel, writes Greg Wetherall

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The name may be familiar, but as a theatre production, the Courtyard Theatre is attempting the unknown.

Solaris has never before been performed on the stage. This is partly because Stranislaw Lem’s source novel, written in 1961, was only translated into English for the first time last year.

Consequently, it is mostly known to the wider public either from the revered 1972 film made by the legendary Andrei Tarkovsky, or the English language remake from 2002 starring George Clooney.

The play opens with Dr Kelvin’s arrival on a space station on the fringes of the galaxy, which is surrounded by ‘the ocean’. The significance and influence of the ocean on those within the space station is brought into question as the play unfolds.

A chamber piece set in space that mixes Descartian philosophy with the simple emotional pull of nostalgia, it offers a dispassionate treatise on the concepts of reality, memory and consciousness.

As an engagement of the head, if not the heart, the play just about succeeds and John Exell stands out as the weary, perplexed and resigned Dr Snow.

It is a valiant attempt to mould a coherent and engrossing production out of some very tough material, offering plenty of food for thought – although the metaphysical ruminations can feel relentless.

If this were a report card, it would run at an A for effort, but a more subdued C for attainment. Room for improvement, certainly, but a cap must be doffed for even trying at all.

* Solaris is at the The Courtyard Theatre in Bowling Green Walk, N1, until December 8.

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