Playwright David Greig to adapt sci-fi classic Solaris for the Royal Lyceum stage

David Greig's new version of Solaris will be staged in Melbourne and Australia next year.
David Greig's new version of Solaris will be staged in Melbourne and Australia next year.
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One of Scotland’s leading playwrights is to create an ambitious new science fiction epic based on classic novel Solaris.

David Greig, who has previously adapted Peter Pan and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the stage, will be adapting Stanisław Lem’s book for the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh more than half a century after it was published.

Special effects will help transform its stage into an eerie space station orbiting an uninhabited planet which seems to be possessed by an alien intelligence.

Greig, the Royal Lyceum’s artistic director, will join forces with Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre to tackle the psychological thriller. The cast will include Australian actor Eamon Farren, who starred in the recent Twin Peaks revival.

It charts the events which unfold when a psychologist - who is changed from a man to woman in the play - arrives a research station hovering above an oceanic planet which has been studied by scientists in vain for years. It emerges that the oceanic planet is able to create haunting visions of the past for the human beings who are trying to investigate it.

The adaption has emerged out of a collaboration between the Royal Lyceum and Malthouse the classic Australian novel Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Greig said: “We took a bit of punt on Picnic at Hanging Rock and it went very well. I was really interested in how we brought in quite a young audience, which was partly down to the horror aspect of it.

“Matthew and I started to knock ideas around for doing something else and he said he wanted to do Solaris. I only knew it from Tarkovsky’s film, which I watched as a student. When I saw it again I was really drawn to the strangeness and mysteriousness of it.”

Solaris has been adapted for the cinema three times, most recently as a Holywood blockbuster, starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone, and directed by Steven Soderbergh, in 2002.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Soviet feature film, released 30 years earlier, won the special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

However Greig will be returning to the Polish author's original 1961 novel for the stage play, which will be directed by Malthouse’s artistic director Matthew Lutton and staged in 2019.

He added: “When I began to read the book I was immediately surprised - it’s not what you think it’s going to be. I had no idea it was so funny, so moving, and such a fascinating philosophical disquisition on the eternal human problem of our relationship with ‘the other’ – whether that is a person, a planet, a lover or a monster.

“I’m a bit afraid of science fiction in theatre. It’s not a common theme at all, which is partly exciting and interesting, but it’s also the most ancient art form we have and doesn’t seem to sit well with spaceships.

“This play is set in the future, but as we might have imagined it in the early sixties, with mahogany bookcases, smoking cigarettes and spools of tape.

“In essence, the premise is that a space station which has almost been forgotten is orbiting a very peculiar planet which is covered in a sea. Over the last 100 years various scientists who have studied have realised that the ocean appears to be a consciousness.

“But they don’t really know what it is because it doesn’t communicate with them. The scientists start to see things and start to get ‘visitors’ - people from their own memories, that the planet is conjuring for them. They don’t know if the planet is a god, or malevolent, or a child and it is sending them all bonkers.

“A psychologist arrives to try and sort it all out, but then she receives a visitor herself - her lover from 10 years ago who killed himself, but is now in front of her.”