Tag Archives: Jade Ogugua

"Solaris" at the Lyric Hammersmith

Reading Stanisław Lem’s science-fiction classic as preparation for this theatre trip, the book struck me as full of brilliant ideas but impossible to stage. The titular planet is as much the subject of the novel as the scientists who investigate it. Lem’s description of a global organism that (somehow) thinks, and creates giant structures from its ocean waters, has to be left to our imaginations. Adapter David Greig’s clever move is to refocus the book towards the emotional drama (incidentally, not Lem’s forte) that arises when the investigators make contact with this alien life-form.

Jade Ogugua, Polly Frame, Keegan Joyce and Fode Simbo in "Solaris"
Jade Ogugua, Polly Frame, Keegan Joyce and Fode Simbo

What goes on has plenty of dramatic potential. The scientists have “visitors”, recreations from their memories, who are loved ones long dead: the lead, Kris, is united with an old flame, Ray, while her colleagues are haunted by their mother and daughter. Greig fills out Lem’s scenario nicely but the structure he opts for feels too cinematic – Solaris has been filmed twice – and director Matthew Lutton embraces just that with too much vigour. It’s technically impressive, and Paul Jackson’s lighting design is excellent, but it isn’t just a question of taste that makes me question this filmic quality. Compare the frequent short scenes, which at first provide drama but become tiresome, with that of a drinks party for Ray (pictured above) – a fantastic addition, given time to develop, and far better suited to the stage.

Kris is the narrator in the novel, which leads to a major role performed by Polly Frame. But opening out the story means that Greig does not give her quite enough to work with. Frame shows terror and joy well but there’s little in between and she fails as any kind of sceptic. Jade Ogugua and Fode Simbo play her colleagues: as deep thinkers, the characters bring out Lem’s ideas, but the performances fail to create an emotional resonance. Kris’s visitor Rey has a much meatier role that Keegan Joyce tackles with gusto. The strange state of his almost-human character becomes as moving as it is fascinating. The best performance comes on film as Hugo Weaving establishes his character’s excitement at the scientific discovery being made.

Hugo Weaver and Polly Frame in "Solaris"
Hugo Weaver and Polly Frame

Designer Hyemi Shin keeps the novel’s 1960s sci-fi aesthetic. It’s appealing enough, although all that video tape might puzzle younger audience members, and enforces the production’s stylish appeal. But the show doesn’t engage with science quite enough. No matter how rattled by events, the characters on stage aren’t given the chance to convince us that they’re professionals. One key scene has liquid oxygen kept at the kitchen sink. I’m not sure who, apart from Heston Blumenthal, would risk that.

More seriously, the production unravels towards the end. Like the scientists who study Solaris, the book’s cult following attracts interpretations. It’s all part of the fun and Greig’s input comes with ecological fears and a touch of the Pre-Socratic Thales that highlights the theme of water. Both are interesting enough but arrive too late in the show for satisfactory exploration. The ideas form part of a truncated finale that ignores the adaptation’s strength – its emotional impact. Despite some rich investment from its whole creative team, the abbreviated conclusion means this Solaris ends up as short-change sci-fi.

Until 2 November 2019

lyric.co.uk

Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic

“The Enchanted” at the Bunker Theatre

Rene Denfeld is an investigator for death-row prisoners, discovering facts that might save their lives. But her award-winning novel, adapted by Joanne and Connie Treves, is a poetic affair with a magical strain. Bringing such lyricism to the stage is a big task and this attempt is both impressive and intriguing.

Our guide is the prison “monster” Arden, institutionalised his whole life and now awaiting execution. A mute bibliophile, he narrates even his own death, and Corey Montague-Sholay is terrific in the role. His is a captivating performance, with some contrived internal dialogue delivered naturally and a remarkable physicality (including a great catuspadapitham).

Montague-Sholay’s movement, directed by Emily Orme is a nice attempt to express the novel’s flights into both fantasy and despair. But as the director Connie Treves uses it too much; particularly when the whole cast join in for small reason. Likewise, chalk drawing over the set is a good idea, linking the world of legal documentation and the prison cell, but it could be employed with more restraint.

There are fewer reservations with the second major character, known as The Lady, who has the same job as Denfeld. Jade Ogugua tackles emotions sensitively and leads the plot, finding evidence to help a prisoner called York, with suitably intensity. There’s strong supporting work from Liam Harkins as various characters she meets while puzzling over the case’s history. It’s a shame The Lady’s love interest, a defrocked priest, feels tacked on.

I am loathe to criticise the Treves’ work on the adaptation – it is excellent. Having only just finished the novel, let’s go all out and call it exemplary. With a steel will, the tone of calm around the emotive issues raised is preserved. Ruthless in all the right places, the adaptation doesn’t just preserve Denfeld’s themes and style, but enhances them. The characters are more vivid and the action clearer. There might be flaws when it comes to the staging, but this development from page to script is superb.

Until 17 June 2017

www.bunkertheatre.com

Photo by Dina T

“dreamplay” at The Vaults

August Strindberg’s 1901 play is widely regarded as being impossible to stage. Of course, that’s never stopped people from trying. The latest effort comes from BAZ Productions, headed by director Sarah Bedi. Crammed with memorable snippets, this ambitious adaptation is free enough to pin down themes precisely. And if it’s deep and meaningful questions you like, these are packed in with forceful proficiency.

From the grunts and screams that open the show – with a character from heaven visiting Earth to observe mankind’s suffering – it’s obvious that audience members need an open mind. A committed cast (Colin Hurley, Michelle Luther, Jade Ogugua and Jack Wilkinson) are sure to win respect. Each of the disconnected scenes is entered at full pitch, slipping speedily into the surreal. It must be exhausting to perform. It’s pretty tough to watch.

There are fine touches here, including great work from Luther, whose movement is controlled by the playing of a cello, and a gorgeous scene of couples proposing marriage that really nails the fluidity of dreams. And a visit to a classroom (get ready to sing along) is the best of the production’s comic touches, sliding effectively into a claustrophobic nightmare. Unfortunately, each scene is just a little too long. Although dreams do, after all, recur, there’s a great deal of repetition. And while it makes sense to break down that fourth wall, the technique is overplayed.

It is sound that holds the show together. The music of super talented cellist Laura Moody, along with a variety of noises made by the cast (appropriate to situations, from the mundane to the supernatural), create an aural landscape that uses the venue perfectly. While expertise in the use of sound is the show’s triumph, navigating the promenade audience through the same space is its biggest failing. Even with an intimate 70-strong audience, too much time is taken moving between scenes, breaking the spell and waking you from the dream. This may be very practical criticism for a play that is so boldly abstract, but the impact is significant.

Until 1 October 2016

www.thevaults.london/dream-play

Photo by Cesare De Giglio