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Three Sisters @ National Theatre Play Review Three Sisters @ National Theatre Play Review
Three Sisters @ National Theatre Play Review

Conflicts resulting from ethnic division are unfortunately a common occurrence in Africa. Three Sisters focuses its attention on the Biafran war, a devastating Nigerian civil battle in the late 60s that led to mass starvation of the Biafran populace.


Writer Inua Ellams (Barber Shop Chronicles) transports Chekhov’s well known Three Sisters story from a Russian provincial town to Owerri, the heart of Igboland where the indigenous population is preparing for war.


Spinster Lolo (Sarah Niles) the oldest sister is a school teacher who like her siblings long to return to their high society life in the capital Lagos. Nne Chukwu (Natalie Thompson) a bored housewife embarks on an affair with married soldier Ikemba (Ken Nwosu).


Youngest sister Udo (Rachel Ofori) is restless and unsure of what to do with her life. She’s been pestered into marriage by a local businessman Nnmeri Ora (Peter Bankole) and Igwe (Jonathan Ajayi) an uncouth soldier stationed at the town.


Their brother Dimgba (Tobi Bamtefa) a failed academic, now a lowly local council administrator is married to garishly dressed half Yoruba Abosede (Ronke Adekoluejo), who slowly not only takes over the household but manipulates her husband into selling it to her secret lover.


Ellams writing is rich and textured allowing both the warmth and distinctiveness of the many characters to shine through whilst not shying away from telling of the horrors of the millions of people that starved to death in the short and some say needless war.


Director Nadia Fall (King Hedley II) subtly and consciously allows each actor to flesh out their roles so that we see that under the outwardly simple rural life is a cauldron of complex intrigue and chicanery at play that’s worthy of any Shakespearian play.


Adekoluejo is so exceptional as the conniving wife of Dimgba, that she elicited pantomineque hissing and booing each time she entered the stage. Other notable performances included Ajayi as the unhinged and ferociously soldier and Ofori as the free-spirited and still juvenile youngest sister.


There were touches of exquisite comedic timing from Anna Domingo as the aging but wise servant Nma and from Jude Akuwudike as Eze the perpetually drunk retired medic.


Ellams gives us a protracted history of the British role in the creation of a fragmented ethnically divided Nigeria along with a somewhat partisan view of the reasons Biafra wanted to cede from the rest of Nigeria.


This is where to play loses some of its potency. It should have kept its focus on the complex relationship and web of intrigue between the sisters and the various characters in their lives as in the original rather than straying into the intricacies of post-coup Nigeria.


Despite this, Katrina Lindsay’s amazingly lavish and detailed reproduction of a grand Nigerian home and the grassy wildness of the African bush, combined with Donato Wharton’s crickets and other ‘bush’ noises helped to immediately immerse the audience as the curtain opened.


With an accomplished supporting cast, sumptuous setting a witty and sharply observed script, there is little to fault this courageous and dramatic if slightly overlong adaptation.


Three Sisters, Till 19 Feb, https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/three-sisters

Photo credit: The Other Richard

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