Writer: Arthur Conan Doyle
Director: Becca Chadder
Other than a few BBC radio dramas, The Poison Belt hasn’t had a great deal of dramatic adaptations. It was the second novel in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Challenger series, which follows the adventures of Professor Challenger. Unlike Doyle’s more famous Sherlock Holmes, Professor Challenger is a hostile, impulsive character who has acquired quite the reputation.
In 1913, the professor discovers that the earth is hurtling towards a cosmic belt of poisonous ether and contacts his closest friends and allies to join him at his home just outside London. His only request is they bring with them cylinders of oxygen. Unaware of the impending danger, but aware of the professor’s habit for the esoteric, they agree to join him, complete with cylinders. Once together, they seal a room and decide to wait it out, watching the world outside their window run amok.
Adapted by the company, with Becca Chadder directing, the cast of three perform multiple roles throughout as they tell the story with a variety of witty mechanisms. While the subject matter might be somewhat apocalyptic, the playing style is far from it, for it is played far more as a comedy than a tragedy, and the show is better for it.
The cast of Sara Lessore, Amma-Alf Osei, and Yuki Sutton give committed and energetic performances throughout and seem to enjoy playing each of the characters they take on, which they do very well. At times the performances feel a little too big for the space, but rather that than the opposite. It is entertaining from start to finish with some excellent comedic moments.
In the epilogue the characters implore society to take the mass environmental event as a warning. The parallel to recent climatic events is not lost on the audience, given events of the previous week. The point is laboured a little, but The Poison Belt just about gets away with not being preachy.
Part of the Footprints Festival, which showcases new work from the theatre’s creative artists (a hand-picked cohort of theatre-makers), this is one of many shows available at the Jermyn Street Theatre throughout July.
Runs until 30 July 2022