Three Sisters | Inua Ellams and Nadia Fall | Setting the Play in Nigeria


(♪ JAZZ PLAYING OVER SPEECH) – So, Inua… –
Nadia! Tell me… Why did you want to adapt
Three Sisters to Nigeria? I think the reason why
I chose to set it in Nigeria is because I’m not Black British,
I’m Nigerian, and I couldn’t write about
the Black British experience without trying to fake something
that I’m not. I know lots of Black British writers
who I know could do that far better than I could. It’s set before,
during and after the Biafran War, a war that I knew vaguely
because my Asian grandparents sort of found themselves
in the midst of it, but I didn’t know a lot about it. It was so weird, because when we were
meeting actors and auditioning actors, and people whose family and heritage
is Nigerian, lots of people said, “Look, my family haven’t even spoken
about their time in the war.” It’s so raw and so present in people’s… You know, there’s not been a play
that I know or you know about it. So, I just think, you know,
I like that about it. That it was putting a light on a history
that was sort of forgotten – or not yet spoken about.
– Yeah. There’s people in the Nigerian community
that might be seeing this play – and going, “That’s my history.”
– Yeah. And how they respond to that, you know,
and the duty of that is just, like, huge! Yeah, I’m… I’m terrified, a bit. Because in the make up of the war,
the Hausas, my people, my tribe,
were the enemies here, were the ones who instigated
a second coup, who were killing the thousands of Igbos, who instigated this journey
right across the country, millions of people fleeing. So, for me to tell this story,
I’m really nervous about it. And from… But you’re nervous about it, but you told it from the point of view
of the other culture. You’ve written the play
from an Igbo Biafran point of view because your family,
your heritage is northern. – Yeah.
– Which is a whole different culture and people. The conflict was between north
and southeast. Yeah, southeast. From a completely objective point of view, I think in this it’s really hard to know
who the bad guys are at any given moment. I think there’s still a sort of unresolved
tone to it, which is very Chekhovian. Yeah. For me,
it’s always difficult to find… I have a natural thing where I empathise
with the underdogs all the time. – Yeah, me too.
– All the time. But also, within that, there is politics
and there are no black-and-whites in war. There are always reasons to pick up arms. Right? It’s the melee and confusion of it, which is where I think human beings
and our truest selves come out of that. You know, it’s like being
under a microscope and there’s light everywhere and the darkness and both our light sides
come to the surface. For me, I just wanted to show
how impossible a situation it is, you know, to distinguish light from day,
right from wrong – you’re just in it. I love that it is political. There is a discussion
that’s reoccurring in the play about the blood
on the hands of the British. – Yeah, yeah.
– Being the post-colonial Nigeria, but only freshly so. So, you know, they’re still living
in the echo of colonialisation. – Yeah.
– And also, the arms deals and the oil. And actually, it’s a tale as old as time. Any time, you’d make a play
about an ex-colony, whether it’s south Asia and my people,
or Nigeria, it’s just like this reoccurring theme, which is political and it shows
that we’ve all got skin in the game. – Yeah.
– So, it’s not just a Nigerian audience. The British audience –
this is British history as well. This is British history, yeah. I think the offer of this play
is also for students. Both students in drama school, but also anyone who knows Three Sisters,
the Chekhov play, and has adapted it
for the British audience, but never situated within British history. Right. I think the play offers to do
all of those things. This is British history,
but the history that you’re not aware of or might not have been fully aware of, and inviting audiences into that world. But you can recognise it,
that’s the thing. You don’t need to know anything
about Nigeria or the Biafran War, or read a textbook – but you might want
to read one afterwards. Exactly, yeah! But do you think this play
could be put on now in Nigeria? – No, definitely not.
– Not at all? I mean, the historians
and intellectuals in Nigeria still argue about what caused the war,
so it isn’t taught in schools. That’s how much
of a contentious subject it is. Even they don’t agree
about how this started, therefore they’re not teaching
people around about it. So, this couldn’t be staged in Nigeria,
not now. (♪ JAZZ PLAYING OVER SPEECH)

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