Polish theatre transforms the Quad into Planet Lem

Planet Lem is shown at the Old College Quad
Planet Lem is shown at the Old College Quad
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ALIENS have landed in the Capital this week, courtesy of Polish outdoor theatre specialists Teatr Biuro Podrozy, who bring their spectacular production of Planet Lem to the Fringe.

Boasting a moving set, multimedia projections, a thrilling post-industrial soundscape and lighting that owes more to the world of cinema than the theatre, Planet Lem is a futuristic place where the relationship between technological progress and the limitations of humanity are explored.

The third of a three-part retrospective, Planet Lem is an astounding spectacle. Following the tale of hero, Ijon Tichy, the fast-paced action literally sets light to the stage.

When a message in a bottle arrives, sending Ijon on his mission, we meet a bizarre cast of otherworldly beings, from Leigh Bowery-esque grub-like creatures to R2-D2-style aliens.

As astronaut Ijon struggles to make meaningful contact in a dystopian future where artificial intelligence has the upper hand, it is time to fight off the ant robots on stilts.

Running until August 26, this brave new world can be found under the suitably dramatic shadow of the Old College Quad clock tower on South Bridge from tonight.

Given its cinematic leanings, it is hardly surprising to discover that Planet Lem is based on the writings of Polish author Stanislaw Lem, one of the giants of science fiction, probably best known for his 1961 novel Solaris, which was transported to the big screen first by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and then by Steven Soderburgh in the recent blockbuster makeover starring George Clooney.

Marta Strzalko, who has been with the company since 1988, explains, “Some science fiction authors think that Stanislaw Lem is a nickname for a group of writers because one person wouldn’t be able to think up all that he did.”

Established in 1988, in the last months of Communist power in Poland, Poznan-based Teatr Biuro Podrozy (the name translates as Travel Agency Theatre) was born into a regime where strict government control impacted on all aspects of everyday life.

Few held a passport and most could only travel in their imaginations - the company offered them an escape through the world of theatre.

Living up to their name, they travelled, taking theatre to the people on the streets.

Of course, the company has come a long way since those early days and touring a large-scale sci-fi set in country after country is not without its difficulties.

“The set is huge indeed and takes two days to set it up,” reveals Strzalko. “Once, on the way to Moscow our truck broke down on a bad road, 100 kilometres away from the city. The set had to be reloaded and cut into smaller parts and taken to Moscow in our van. It went back and forth four times during that night.”

Even if you aren’t a sci-fi fan, Planet Lem is worth a look just for the sheer magnificent spectacle of the piece.

• Planet Lem, Old College Quad, South Bridge, until August 26, 10.30pm, £10 - £15, 0131-226 0000