Books, books, books, and theatre

One thing about our Walk the Lines project was getting to know which suburbs of London have the charity shops with the best selection of books for sale.

On Saturday we were heading out to Hammersmith to go to a play, but we went early because we remembered a street with a concentration of charity shops with lots of books – including an Amnesty International books only shop.

I love books and I love buying books and buying books cheaply from charity shops has the double endorphin boom of (1) Yay, more books and (2) Yay, helping a charity.

Although I have to admit it’s more (1) than (2).

I came home with seven books. Husband unhappily got none as Hammersmith is not rich in second hand science fiction which is his genre of choice. Although technically he could count Boris Akunin’s Turkish Gambit as his as he wanted it to fill a gap in our Fandorin collection.

We took our new-old books with us to see the play, Solaris, based on the book and movies of the same name. I mentioned Solaris to a colleague at work and she said, “Oh, based on the movie with George Clooney.” I mentioned it to a different colleague and she said, “Oh, based on the Tarkovsky film.” If I’d mentioned it to my Polish colleague she would probably have said, “Oh, based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem.”

(I haven’t read the book, but I have seen both the movies.)

To give you a short overview of the plot: the setting is a space station orbiting the watery planet Solaris, studying it. There were three crew members; but when a new arrival from the Institute arrives to bring them home at the end of the mission she finds out one of them, her former mentor, is dead, and the other two are behaving very strangely. It emerges that as they have been studying the planet, so too the planet has been studying them and in its attempt to communicate, the planet has caused physical manifestations on board the space ship – people and things from the crew’s past have appeared on board.

The new arrival, Kris Kelvin (played by Polly Frame), is confronted by a manifestation of a former lover who died, Ray (played by Keegan Joyce). Joyce does a good job of presenting Ray as a kind of ghost, a one dimensional being based on Kelvin’s memories of him. In the second act, Ray begins to articulate the voice of the planet but within the framework of Ray’s personality as it is remembered by Kelvin.

It sounds very highbrow, but actually it’s not. It’s not even very science-fictiony (if that’s a term). For me the play asked the question – if you could go back and revisit the past, or revisit a person from your past, would you do the same things and behave the same way or would you do things differently? Could you do things differently?

The characters in the play also argued a bigger question: Is Solaris a malevolent force or is it a lonely sentient being that just wants to communicate?

I liked the staging – the frequent scene changes marked by closing of grey vertical doors as if representing the exteriornof the spaceship – or is it the slowly blinking eye of the planet Solaris? The visuals of waves played on the grey surface were hypnotic, mesmerising, and hovering just on the edge of nausea-inducing.

The spaceship was not your standard stipped back grey metal interior. It was white, and somewhat anachronistic with proper beds, wine and cigars, CDs and VHS tapes (with Hugo Weaving “on tape” as the deceased mentor and Solaris expert Gibarian).

Although the play could not be considered light entertainment, it was certainly an engrossing and thoughtful journey with good performances across the cast.

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