Arts & Culture

Ends 19th February! Three Sisters at the National Theatre

7:30 pm - 10:30 pm | 06 February 2020
Lyttelton Theatre | £42 - £75

Love and longing in 1960s Nigeria.

Owerri, 1967, on the brink of the Biafran Civil War. Lolo, Nne Chukwu and Udo are grieving the loss of their father. Months before, two ruthless military coups plunged the country into chaos. Fuelled by foreign intervention, the conflict encroaches on their provincial village, and the sisters long to return to their former home in Lagos.

Inua Ellams describes his new play, his first since Barber Shop Chronicles, as “after Chekhov”. He has taken the characters of Three Sisters and relocate them from provincial Russia to Nigeria between 1967 and 1970 during Biafra’s attempted secession.

The result is a startlingly vivid account of the civil war and a direct assault on British neocolonialism. I just wish Ellams had been less faithful to Chekhov. Structurally, the play stays close to the template. It is set in a village in Owerri, where three sisters think back longingly to Lagos.

One of them, Lolo, is a hard-working teacher; the married middle sister, Nne Chukwu, has an affair with a military commander; the youngest, Udo, sees her dreams of happiness shattered.

All of this is true to Chekhov. But we also see the brutal consequences of civil war, including death and starvation, and at the end we witness Biafra’s doomed attempt to create a separate republic.

Ellams brilliantly uses the context to sharpen specific relationships. The hostility of the sisters to their brother’s wife, which in the original seems like snobbery, is explained by the fact that they belong to the dominant Igbo ethnic group, while she is a Yorùbá.

The reason for the failure of Nne Chukwu’s marriage also becomes clear when you realise it was arranged when she was 12. Above all, the play offers a searing attack on British responsibility for the war dating to the time when they created Nigeria out of 250 ethnic groups and languages.

Running Time: 3 hours and 10 minutes, including interval.

The show runs until 19th February 2020.

Book your tickets here

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