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Casting confirmed for Giles Terera’s award-winning play confronting the legacy of Britain's human rights and slave trading past

The Meaning of Zong London premiere at Barbican Theatre, 20-23 April 2023

Bristol Old Vic – The Meaning of Zong, a play by Giles Terera

Dates: Thursday 20–Sunday 23 April 2023, Barbican Theatre

Press performance: Thursday 20 April 2023, 7.45pm

Audio described performance: Saturday 22 April, 7.45pm

Captioned performance: Saturday 22 April, 2.30pm


Giles Terera’s boldly inventive debut play The Meaning of Zong will make its London premiere at Barbican Theatre in April 2023, following its world premiere at Bristol Old Vic and visits to Liverpool and Edinburgh last year. Taking place at the height of the transatlantic slave trade, The Meaning of Zong celebrates the power of the human spirit against adversity and explores how individual and collective action can drive unimaginable change.

The play explores a heinous insurance claim made in 1783 over lost ‘cargo’, masking the murder of over 130 enslaved African people. Calling for a reckoning on the legacy of the UK’s slave trading past and the role played by financial and judicial institutions, the play will be performed a stone’s throw from London’s Guildhall - the location of the court hearing that determined the claim.

Giles Terera said: “240 years ago this extraordinary true story began in the City of London. That we are able to bring it back to the heart of Britain’s financial capital presents a valuable opportunity for us to acknowledge our past and understand our present, so that we can, if we choose to, build a positive future. With shocking stories in papers about the plight of Black and Brown people fighting for their lives at sea in boats, then as now Britain must ask itself - what should be done? This is a story about human rights, our responsibility to one another and the power of the individual to effect positive change.

The Meaning of Zong is co-directed by Giles Terera and Tom Morris (Touching the Void, War Horse). It is performed by an ensemble cast including Giles Terera, whose performance in the original run at Bristol Old Vic won him the 2022 UK Theatre Award for Best Performance in a Play.  

The cast for the London production will include Tristan Sturrock, Ényì Okoronkwo, Rona Morison and Kezrena James, who join original company members Simon Holland-Roberts, Remi King, Kiera Lester and Bethan Mary-James, with music live on-stage performed by Composer and Musical Director Sidiki Dembele.

In 1783, Olaudah Equiano read the harrowing reports of a massacre aboard the slave ship Zong, from which 133 Africans had been thrown overboard. Joining forces with anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp to publicly condemn these actions, he helped set in motion events which led to the abolition movement in the UK

Based on real life historical events, Olivier Award-winning performer, writer and co-director Giles Terera (Hamilton, Othello) digs deeper into Olaudah’s mission beyond the courtroom. Having bought his own freedom, he now faces a personal battle to rediscover his past and accept his true self.

Toni Racklin, Barbican Head of Theatre & Dance, said: “We are honoured to present this compelling new play, which urges us to reflect on our place in the world and our fundamental duty to each other. The Meaning of Zong reminds us of theatre’s unique ability to create a place where conversations can come alive. We bear witness to extraordinary stories of resilience and resistance that resonate more powerfully than ever.

While the legacies of this trade continue to reverberate, so do the victories of those who campaigned against it…urgent, history unfurls and keeps on moving”
★★★★★ The Guardian