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Solaris review or does Sci Fi as a genre work on stage?

Tobor_great_42The Courtyard Theatre's production of Solaris is my first introduction to the story which started life as a book and subsequently was adapted twice for film.

It got me and Poly talking about other Sci Fi-based plays we might have seen and the fact that we couldn't recall any made me think about it as a genre for the stage.

You see the problem, well two problems, I had with Solaris the play is that firstly Sci Fi speak is difficult to pull off without sounding ridiculous or that the genre is being spoofed. It takes a pretty strong combination of director and acting talent to make the words sound natural and genuine. Secondly, it is difficult to create a convincing back drop that doesn't just look like the set of a 1950s B movie.

In novel form Sci Fi is only limited by the imagination. On film and TV there are so many tricks and techniques you can use to create a believable environment and atmosphere. A low-budget stage production has many limitations even before you approach Sci Fi. Clear corrugated plastic screens which are moved by masked characters to represent walls and electric doors is a good idea but its less than perfect execution creates a distraction when everything is supposed to be electronic and smooth.

Also what do you have as the backdrop and lighting? Cue draped sheer white curtains and some neon strip lights positioned into a vanishing point at the back of the stage which was reminiscent of a 1970s rock album cover.

I write this not to criticise but to demonstrate the difficulty faced in staging Sci Fi.

Adding to the problem is dialogue. Good Sci Fi works on two levels: Future issues, in this case how man communicates with non-human life forms and contemporary issues - how man deals with past guilt in Solaris.

The story is set on a space ship hovering above a planet which is home to one being whose form is surface water.  While the humans experiment on the creature it experiments on them in return generating people from their past for whom there is an associated guilt.

Carrying off complex discussions about deep human emotions in a manner that convinces and moves is difficult enough for actors but add in the science and jargon of Solaris' setting and it is just that much harder. There were moments when I think the cast of Solaris nailed it but on the whole it just didn't feel believable or engaging enough.

Is the fact that Poly and I can't think of another Sci Fi play telling? Have we missed a raft of them or is it a case that it is, as a genre, just too difficult to pull off a Sci Fi-based stage production, at least a serious one? Has there been a successful Sci Fi play, I would be interested to hear of any examples and why they worked.

One thing that Solaris can take credit for it making me want to see the films.

Solaris runs at the Courtyard Theatre until December 8.

Image from the wrong side of the art website.