Inua Ellams’ brain is a mad ting!
Chekhov’s iconic characters are relocated to Nigeria in this bold new adaptation by Inua Ellams. A self-professed “geek“, Ellams loves writing to make this world not only a better place but also, in my opinion, a more colourful one. Since his breakout pan-African hit “Barbershop Chronicles” (currently showing at Leeds Playhouse), he has been working on stories that really push mental boundaries out of the water.
As a lover /obsess-ee of mythology and history, I had anime-style wildness and joy over “the half-God of rainfall“, his fictional story amalgamating Yoruba and Greek mythology effortlessly. Now with his adaptation of “3 Sisters”, Ellams has turned to the Igbo history of the Biafran war and amalgamated it with Anton Chekhov’s existential original “Three Sisters” to create a tour de force with much more agency than the original ever had. I say this because, anyone who has ever watched, read or been in Chekhov’s masterpiece will tend to ask one main question of the story, “why don’t they just leave? … Seriously!” But by setting his re-up before and around the Biafran war of the 1960s, Ellams gradually closes off access for the sisters to the life they dream of returning to, then in Moscow, now Lagos.
Director of Three Sisters Nadia Fall is my WCW and will be yours too!
Having had the opportunity to go into the rehearsal room at The National and watch a small snippet from the opening of the play, I can already tell you, Fall is levels. This director is already a hot ticket creator but from the little she unfolded from her brain in front of us, my excitement levels went to indecent. She embodies and incorporates not only the Nigerian aspects of the life these girls live through details like having the board game “Ludo” as part of the set dressing and a rich understanding of the specificity required for the Igbo tongue and culture, but also incorporates the global time period of the 60s these girls lived through recognisable things like song and fashion but in quirky, weird and heightened ways. But I don’t want to give too much away. This woman is wholly impassioned by her work and it is clear to see. The audience is in for a treat!
(Also a little fact is that this play is one of the first all-black plays to be on the Lyttelton Theatre at the National, as opposed to being relegated to the “cultural stage” of the Dorfman (like Barbershop was), makes this a vital piece for any POC to support and for any non-POC to learn from).
The cast is made up of the three sisters
Having had the pleasure of watching them, I then got to spend a little time with the lead actresses, Sarah Niles (eldest sister equivalent of Olga, the wise Lolo), Natalie Simpson (Masha turned the spicy Nne Chukwu) and Racheal Ofori (Irina now the vibrant Udo), I saw in zero point zero seconds how entirely embodying of their characters they are, almost to the point they themselves hadn’t realised. For example, in my head, the bouncy, optimistic and sweetly fresh Irina character, would, in a Nigerian equivalent, be passionate of nature and would physically represent that costume-wise with traditional waist beads of young women “jigida“. And wasn’t Ofori just wearing them of her own accord?
Meanwhile, Simpson has a quality that can seemingly dominate a conversation in a way I imagine Masha/Nne must do, being more intelligent than her surroundings and time period allow for her to express, especially in the marriage she finds herself in.
Niles is a chameleon. Having seen her play Henry Bolingbroke turned King Henry IV in “Richard II“, I have seen her play and decimate a character entirely opposite to what she is now in Lolo. She speaks through her eyes with a passion and fragility in a way I have never seen done so vibrantly and I can’t wait to see the journey she and her sisters go on in this play.
3 Sisters runs from 3rd December 2019 until 19th February 2020 on the Lyttelton stage at The National Theatre.
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