Solaris for Lyceum

Sep 3 2018 | By More

Greig to adapt classic SF novel for stage

The Lyceum is to stage an adaptation of Stanislav Lem’s Solaris by David Greig as part of its 2019/20 season in a co-production with the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne, Australia.

Greig, the Lyceum’s artistic director, is working on the project with his counterpart at Malthouse, the director Matthew Lutton. Solaris will open in Melbourne in 2019 before transferring to Edinburgh.

Publicity image for Solaris

Publicity image for Solaris.

The production will feature a cast of both Scottish and Australian actors, including Eamon Farren who played Richard Horne in the recent retread of Twin Peaks for Amazon Prime.

Solaris, originally published as a novel in 1961, is best known for its film adaptations by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and Steven Soderbergh in 2002. It is set in a space station orbiting the mysterious planet Solaris, light years away from earth.

Greig told Æ that he originally knew of the Tarkovsky movie and was excited when Lutton suggested an adaption when the two were talking about how to extend the two theatres’ relationship after their successful co-production of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

“To be honest I was going on my memory of the film,” he said. “Then I went and I got the book and I was immediately surprised. It was not what I was expecting at all.


“The book has much more in common with Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and even things like Red Dwarf. It is funny, it is mischievous, it is witty and it is philosophical. It is also brilliantly written – I don’t know why it is not a smash hit as a book!”

Greig says that at its heart the novel has an “aching question” – which Tarkovsky tapped into – about whether you can come back from the dead. And if you could, whether that might be its own form of entrapment and grief.

David Greig. Photo Thom Dibdin

“The second thing which occurred to me on reading was I didn’t understand why nobody had made a play of it already,” he adds.

“If you look at it on its absolute surface level, what you have is four people who have been trapped in a place, a single location, and one has disappeared. To investigate this, another arrives and our story begins. They all remain trapped in this single location until this story plays out to its end.

“That is a play; it is not about space wars!”

Adapting an SF novel written over half a century ago holds no qualms for Greig and Lutton who looked at the production in terms of what Greig calls retro-futurism.

The issue first grabbed Greig when he clocked the men in suits at the Space Headquarters, all furiously smoking in the Tarkovsky movie.

tin foil

“And in the book, this is a space station many light years from Earth where there is a library of paper books, there are ashtrays, they use reel-to-reel tape, food is in the form of food, they have knives and forks and they lay the table.

“My fear with SF in the theatre is always tin foil; it is just not the right place for it. But what we can do is a future which is record players and books and a reel-to-reel tapes – but there is a planet outside which seems interesting…”

Matthew Lutton will direct Solaris.

Matthew Lutton will direct Solaris. Pic: Malthouse Theatre.

Which does not mean that Greig is going to be a slave to writer Stanislav Lem’s attitude to equality in Poland in the fifties and sixties.

“In the book it is all men, except the character of Kelvin’s lover,” says Greig. “We thought in the modern world, it is perfectly conceivable that people of every ethnicity and background will be on space stations, women and men will be on space stations and no doubt people of different disabilities.

“It struck as a really great chance, as producers, that we could start with the actors. We could say that any of these characters could be any gender or background. Let us put an interesting group of people together to make the show.”

Having explored various options for genders in workshops, it became clear to Grieg and Lutton that the central character of Kelvin would be best presented as a woman. Not only is it a great role, but it also changes the dynamic of how the play relates to Solaris, the planet at the heart of the novel.

“It is a story about the other, because Solaris is this great mysterious other,” says Greig. “They kind of know it is a consciousness – but they literally can’t tell if it is God, if it is a child, if it is consciousness of a kind we can’t possibly understand or if it is terrifyingly dangerous and malevolent – they just don’t know.

“If you think of things like first contact with other races in the history of the West – or the simple other, the endless dilemma of being human, whether it is men and women, or people of different ethnicities or the next door neighbour, there is always the other and we always look at the other and we don’t quite know what to do with it.

“It is an interesting conundrum and a woman as a protagonist just gives a deliciously interesting dynamic to all of that.”


He adds that both movies found it hard to avoid the creation of Kelvin’s former lover as a slightly manic pixie dream girl – along with the representation of things which have become cliches.

“In the 1960s a foxy girl in a polo-neck going ‘Oh I am very sad, I committed suicide’ was probably alright. But it isn’t any more, we need more than that,” says Greig.

“On one level we are retaining some retro-futurism, but we are also trying to keep the philosophical core of the story but allow ourselves to be in the 21st century in terms of the cast.”

Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
June 28 – July 20 2019.
Tickes and details:

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Part of the 2019/20 season
Dates to be announced:

The original novel and film adaptations by Tarkovsky and Soderbergh are available through Amazon. Click images for details.


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