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Bristol Old Vic: The Meaning of Zong

A play by Giles Terera

Giles Terera and Keira Lester kneeling on the floor on stage in The Meaning of Zong

Olivier Award-winner Giles Terera’s boldly inventive debut play celebrates the power of the human spirit against adversity, and the journey to understand our place in the world.

★★★★★ 'Profoundly moving. A masterful meditation on the legacy of slavery' The Guardian

Two hundred years ago, Olaudah Equiano read the harrowing reports of a massacre aboard the slave ship Zong, where 133 Africans were 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.

But Olaudah’s mission goes beyond the courtroom. Having bought his own freedom, he now faces a personal battle to rediscover his past and accept his true self.

Based on real life historical events, this highly acclaimed play is performed by an ensemble cast including writer and Olivier Award-winner Giles Terera (Hamilton) and co-directed by Tom Morris (Touching the Void, War Horse).

Tagged with: Theatre & dance

Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, including interval

Age guidance: 12+ 
Please note: This show contains distressing scenes, historical racial language, themes of slavery and violence and some strong language.

Post-show talk, Fri 21 Apr
Free to same-day ticket holders. Hosted by Bonnie Greer. With Giles Terera; Andrien Meyers (Deputy Alderman & Chairman of the EDI City of London Sub-Committee) and Claire Spencer (Barbican CEO).

Audio described performance
Sat 22 Apr, 7.45pm

Captioned performance
Sat 22 Apr, 2:30pm

Audience care document
We understand that some of the content featured in this show will be triggering to some audience members. Take a look at our audience care document for more information and to find support resources.

Presented by the Barbican

A Bristol Old Vic production. Supported by the Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation, The Mackintosh Foundation and donations toward The Peter O'Toole Prize.

Original production support from the Bristol Old Vic Law Circle: Christopher Sharp, Osborne Clarke, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, Bevan Brittan, Burges Salmon, Clarke Willmott, St John’s Chambers, Kannan Siva.

Image by Curtis Richard.


‘Profoundly moving. A masterful meditation on the legacy of slavery‘
‘Sparkles with ingenuity‘
The Stage
‘Powerful. Eloquent. Spectacular production‘
The Scotsman
‘Transcendent, powerful, a story of our time‘


Actor Giles Terera looks straight at the camera against a red background.

Giles Terera on the Zong massacre

‘It was shameful I didn’t know about it.’

In this article in The Guardian, Giles Terera reflects upon the horrifying chapter of history at the centre of The Meaning of Zong and the importance of making the story heard.