One of Chekhov's most popular–and frequently performed–plays has been relocated to Nigeria in Nadia Falls's production of Three Sister (NT' Lyttelton auditorium), in a new adaptation by Inua Ellams.
Owerri 1967 on the brink of the Biafran Civil War. The sisters, renamed 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.
Ellams's take on this classic work has a freshness and punch that makes its humane complications and disappointments live and breathe in new air. It is sad, funny ("marriage is a journey of incremental disappointments"), but also uneven and overlong. In particular the dawdling final act–in which Biafra surrenders and the protagonists have their hopes dashed is somewhat laborious and feels bolted on.
The sisters here are no longer three bored women, trapped by domesticity and dreaming of escape, they are women living in a war zone, struggling with ideals of independence that are political and social, as well as individual. The lack of incident that plagues the characters in the original are replaced by huge events, so we lose that sense of deep purposelessness, as well as a certain depth and subtlety.
But the production looks utterly beautiful. Katrina Lindsay's set of a wide verandaed house that literally recedes from view into a screen of hanging ropes as the certainties of life vanish, is strongly atmospheric.
Furthermore the entire cast shines under Nadia Falls's confident, sweeping direction. Sarah Niles is solid as the long-suffering Lolo, Natalie Simpson a mercurial, unhappily married Nne Chukwu and Rachael Ofori a glowing, idolised Udo. There is also a standout performance by Ronke Adekoluejo as "bush animal" Abosede, married to the sisters' feckless brother and robbing them of their birthright – she is Yoruba and they are Igbo.
This, then, is an imaginative but flawed new take on a familiar work – you can see a great play trying to come out.
Plays in repertory until February 19.
Box office: 020 7452 3000.
Photo: The Other RichardLast modified: April 6, 2021