Inua Ellams takes a classic and makes it a proper Nigerian story…well Igbo.
Showing at: Lyttelton Theatre at the National Theatre in London
Running until: February 19 2020
Adaptation written by: Inua Ellams
Original play by: Anton Chekhov
Directed by: Nadia Fall
Starring: Natalie Simpson, Sarah Niles, Rachel Ofori
Inua Ellams has been killing it, consistently. The success of his play, The Barbershop Chronicles, just keeps growing. He’s definitely going to be one of THE notable Black British playwrights of the last decade, the new decade and beyond. I was excited to hear about his latest work, 3 sisters, a remake of an old Russian classic from 1901.
In this version of the play, Ellams gives us a unique take on the story of 3 sisters living in 1960s Igboland, Nigeria, who are mourning the loss of their military general father. These women are well off, well educated, beautiful and surrounded by military men and a cast of characters who hang around the sisters and their home, as the idea of Igbo independence and the Biafra war is looming. They spend their days cooped up and bored in a beautiful home in the middle of nowhere, yearning to return to the big city. In the original, it is Moscow, but in Ellams’ version, it is Lagos that they are obsessed with returning to.
Ideas about philosophy, womanhood, finding your purpose, war, hopes and dreams are all packed into 3 hours. All the action takes place around the sisters’ home but it’s still full of drama, which is down to the energetic and clever performances of the cast. You can feel the heat and tension of the war unfolding though you don’t see the fighting.
It’s borderline melodramatic but still sophisticated and stays true to Nigerian and West African storytelling. Little moments of the play – “call me Oga!”-makes it feel like it was always meant to be a Nigerian story. The acting was great all round but I especially enjoyed Ronke Adekoluejo who plays Abosede, a Yoruba woman surrounded by Igbos who has the most interesting character development.
It’s a serious story but comedy is there throughout and it doesn’t try to explain the Nigerian/West African references. You either you get it or you don’t. It goes as far as to include dialogue in Pidgin and doesn’t bother with the fact that not everyone will understand and I loved that aspect just as much as I loved the play as a whole. The characters aren’t performing, just being their real selves, whether that’s Igbo, Nigerian or just three sisters.
This play ends on February 19th. Get your tickets here to avoid missing out!