Malthouse Theatre continues its heritage of brave and unique theatre with the staging of a new adaptation of  Solaris – Polish writer Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 Sci – Fi novel about the exploration of self and beyond when a small group of scientists encounter extraterrestrial life from within the research station  in orbit around the mercurial planet Solaris.

An exciting international joint venture between  Malthouse Theatre, The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Lyric Hammersmith, the play is the work of Scottish writer David Greig and is directed by award winning Australian director Matthew Lutton. the show also showcases Australian and the UK’s most sought-after performers:  Leeanna Walsman (Wentworth, Safe Harbour, Melancholia),  UK’s Fode Simbo and Jade Ogugua with Hugo Weaving joining the cast in a cinematic role.

Australian actor and singer, Keegan Joyce (Please Like Me, Rake), joins Malthouse Theatre for his debut role, and describes  the piece as one that questions the nature of connection and the idea of consciousness and human understanding. Joyce’s view is that it is a  fascinating study of the human condition exploring themes of human understanding, connection, colonialism, and ethics – it is also a work, posits Joyce,  which Greig has deliberately left  ambiguous and open ended.

“I think what’s great about David Greig’s writing is that it doesn’t answer all the questions,” says Joyce. ” More than any other work I’ve been a part of, Solaris leaves the audience to ponder these themes. I think there might be a few discussions in the car on the way home.”

A new work by Greig – with Malthouse securing the world premiere – it is this very newness that ignites Joyce’s passion the most.

“New work is exciting. You really feel like you’re a big part of the creative process. Your ideas are valued, you’re bringing something to the creative table. I love that feeling,” he says. 

In fact, it is his involvement with new work that is Joyce’s preference as an actor “On stage or screen, creating something new is probably the most exciting part of being an actor,” he says. “And in terms of style, I guess I like works with a bit of mystery. Solaris fits perfectly into that.”

Categorised solely as a science fiction piece in its original novel form, Greig’s adaptation is more than that incorporating the thriller, adventure, love story (says director Matthew Lutton) genres as well as scary bits – “There’s definitely an element of horror,” confirms Joyce speculating that is comes from the idea of the unknown.

Although Joyce hadn’t read the novel beforehand, he had seen the 1972 Tarkovsky film (or parts of it) at university where they discussed the music of the film. He admits to having read the novel now, and acknowledges it has helped a lot with creating his character’s overall arc.

So, for the purists, expect Greig’s adaptation to veer somewhat from Lem’s original. Joyce explains that Lem explores the idea of the scientific expedition to Solaris more than the current script. “We can’t get too involved in the logic and science of the expedition,” he says.

Greig’s adaptation also experiments with role reversal as Joyce plays the hitherto female role of Rheya with Walsman tackling Lem’s male character, Dr. Kris.

“It’s great, says Joyce. “For me, there haven’t been any significant challenges in flipping the sexes of the characters. Having a male ‘Rheya’ (now, Ray), I think, has raised the stakes of the initial scenes. Ray is Kris’s ex-lover and mysteriously returns to Kris’s life early in the play. I think having a male Ray makes this a little scarier. The potential for violence is pretty prevalent and I think sits in the audience’s minds as they watch the initial interactions between Kris and Ray.”

Joyce is making his Malthouse debut with this show, under Lutton’s direction, and is very excited to part of the cast. His audition was held at a time when he was over in LA and, after tapping for Lutton, they followed up with a big video chat about the role and the show. The rest, as they say, is history!

Joyce adds that this his first straight-up play and consider himself fortunate.  “I’ve been very fortunate to do a lot of musicals, and even some “plays with music” as they say, but this is a pretty great way to make a Malthouse debut. I’m very lucky.”

Joyce’s praise for Lutton’s directorial style is profuse describing him as wonderful.

“It’s been great to be both part of, and witness this kind of process with him. Matt has a wonderful way of listening to and processing your questions, queries, joys, problems; then helping you frame them in a way that makes it all work. He’s also great because in every moment he’s specific but open. Always looking for the best way to approach each beat.”

Solaris is gripping and thought provoking theatre that will engender what the theatre was designed to engender and that is human interaction. Joyce concurs saying that if the rehearsal room is any clue, this is going to be an exciting piece of theatre. 

June 28 – July 21

Images: Pia Johnson