Skip to content

In November and December 1781, 132 enslaved Africans held captive on the British ship Zong were thrown overboard into the Caribbean Sea and murdered. This brutal event and the subsequent trials in London that energized the abolitionist movement are chronicled in The Meaning of Zong, Giles Terera’s first play.

Originally slated to be staged in 2020 and adapted for radio last year, it is now receiving a richly theatrical first production. Framed by contemporary decor, the piece is keenly aware of its place in the present moment and how its resonances may differ after the events of the past two years. He abstains from didacticism and facile metaphors.

Although the playwright not only shares directing duties with Tom Morris, but also stars as abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, it’s very much an ensemble piece. Roles and sets move quickly from scene to scene: talking bookshelves become a crackling fireplace and revolutionary printing presses; slaves become judges.

Performed to music composed and spectacularly performed live by Sidiki Dembele, Terera’s nimble script moves at its own pace. An extended and delightfully lyrical second-act monologue could, in a less assured production, feel like it belongs in a different room. Here he seems quite relevant, performed to devastating effect by Kiera Lester.

There is, however, a small dissonance between the inventive theatrics of the staging and the sheer brutality of the events at its center. Although little represented on stage, this violence remains insidiously present. In Jean Chan’s decor, the vestiges of the empire are everywhere: the rafters that support the courts of justice also form the hulls of the slave trade.

As the legacies of this trade continue to reverberate, so do the victories of those who campaigned against it. And here, in its final minutes, The Power of Zong feels most triumphant. Devastating and urgent, the story unfolds and continues to move forward. It is a deeply moving moment.

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.