Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Four stars

Until October 5


Seen at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Four stars

Touring until September 29


Seen at Paisley Arts Centre

Five stars

Touring until October 6


Solaris, the acclaimed 1961 sci-fi novel by Polish author Stanislaw Lem (in which a group of cosmonauts find themselves in the grip of the mysterious, oceanic planet of the title) has spawned numerous dramatisations. Most notable are the 1972 movie by the great, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, and the 2002 film by US director Steven Soderbergh.

To this remarkable constellation we can now add this clever and compelling stage adaptation by acclaimed Scottish playwright (and artistic director of the Royal Lyceum) David Greig. The play (a co-production between the Lyceum, the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne and the Lyric Hammersmith) opens, on designer Hyemi Shin’s exceptional, surprisingly versatile white set, with cosmonaut (and psychologist) Dr Kris Kelvin (Polly Frame) newly arrived on the Solaris space station.

Sent to retrieve the scientists from the station, Kelvin arrives to find the eminent researchers Snow (Fode Simbo) and Sartorius (Jade Ogugua) alive (but not entirely well, in psychological terms). Much to Kelvin’s distress, the respected scientist (and Kelvin’s former mentor) Dr Gibarian (Hugo Weaving on videotape) is dead.

The cause of the discomfiture of Snow and Sartorius is that they have made contact with a powerful, alien lifeform – Solaris itself. Capable of reading the human mind, the planet has been sending “visitors” to the space station, in the all-too-credible shape of people who are deeply embedded in the cosmonauts’ memories.

Before long, Kelvin finds herself encountered by a perfect, flesh-and-bone replica of her deceased former lover, Ray (Keegan Joyce). The psychologist is gripped, simultaneously, by feelings of horror, joy, fascination and confusion. The replicant, who becomes increasingly human through his interactions with Kelvin and the others, is overcome by existential anxiety.

Frame and Joyce give resonating performances, both together and separately. Connecting brilliantly with the profound and disquieting ideas and emotions of Lem’s fiction, their acting shudders the soul. Weaving is deeply affecting, too, bringing gravitas and humanity to his dying characters’ final thoughts.

Sadly, director Matthew Lutton’s casting and characterisations are not universally impressive. No criticism should be levelled at Simbo and Ogugua, who are simply too young for their roles; a failing which Lutton compounds by requiring of them a casual, contemporary mode of speech which is entirely at odds with the overwhelming strangeness of their situation.

Praise is due to the production’s excellent video work, from Gibarian’s tapes to the turbulent sea that represents Solaris during the many scene changes. As memorable visually as it is proficient technically, the show’s video work epitomises what is, despite some flawed casting, a classy, ultimately triumphant stage adaptation.

WhirlyGig, the latest children’s theatre work (for kids aged six and over) from Catherine Wheels and Red Bridge Arts, engages the senses from a very different angle. At the beginning the set for Daniel Padden’s show looks like a bizarre crime scene (think white chalk outlines, as if for murdered objects). Soon, however, four superb, intrepid, young performer-musicians are matching the outlines to no fewer than 30 musical instruments.

What ensues in Padden and co-director Gill Robertson’s lovely production is gloriously madcap music making in which the brightly-clad performers run around the stage, utilising the panoply of instruments arranged on the floor. These delightful shenanigans are interrupted by the sound of a cuckoo clock, which heralds the musicians’ need too hurriedly arrange themselves into a formal quartet.

A fly interrupts the performance (to great comic effect) and instruments are taken away (requiring the performers to improvise humorously). Through repetition and variation, and no small amount of physical comedy, the show becomes increasingly fascinating and funny.

Wonderfully accomplished, in musical and performative terms, WhirlyGig has the atmospheric charm of a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (maker of Amelie) and the craziness of Monty Python. Part circus, part concert, it is a wonderfully original piece of children’s musical theatre.

If Padden’s piece is somewhat mad, it is nowhere near as bonkers as Mamoru Iriguchi’s deliciously unhinged Eaten (also for children aged six and above). Lionel McLion, who wants to become a vegetarian, lounges in the Serengeti wishing he hadn’t just eaten Mamoru.

Soon, however, his lunch, undigested and still very much alive, pops its head into the lion’s mouth to explain the big cat’s digestive system and the wonders of the food chain. Then, Iriguchi quickly changes character, emerging (in brown Lycra) from the brilliantly designed lion’s rear as the anthropomorphised jobby Dr Poo (professor of poo at the Pooniversity).

The ensuing audience participation combines the scatological humour common to most children with education in a way that is nothing short of genius. As Iriguchi’s fine co-performer Suzi Cunningham changes role from erudite narrator to not-very-ferocious lion, director Ivor MacAskill’s production defies the oft-repeated injunction to “never work with children or animals” with stunning alacrity.

An astoundingly original work of children’s theatre, Eaten is fantastically inventive and funnier than a Donald Trump press conference.

For tour details for Whirlygig, visit:

For tour details for Eaten, visit: