Theatre News

Giles Terera's The Meaning of Zong casting revealed

The new drama will debut in Bristol ahead of runs in Edinburgh and Liverpool

The cast of The Meaning of Zong
The cast of The Meaning of Zong

Bristol Old Vic has announced casting for Giles Terera's debut stage play The Meaning of Zong.

Terera (Hamilton), who also co-directs the production alongside Tom Morris, will take on the central role of pioneering abolitionist Olaudah Equiano in the piece.

Joining him on stage will be Paul Higgins (Line of Duty) as Granville Sharp, Michael Elcock (Hex) as Ottobah Cugoano, Bethan Mary-James (Pride & Prejudice) as Joyi/Lord Mansfield, Alice Vilanculo (Rosmersholm) as Riba, Simon Holland Roberts (Saint Joan) as Sir John Lee/Robert Stubbs/William Woodfall, Kiera Lester (Chloe) as Ama/Gloria, Eliza Smith (Doctors) as Annie Greenwood, and recent graduate Remi King as Arthur Pigot/Kelsall.

The company will also be joined onstage by composer, musical director and multi-instrumentalist Sidiki Dembele (Afrika! Afrika!).

The Meaning of Zong tells the true story of Equiano, who joined forces with anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp to publicly condemn the massacre aboard the slave ship Zong, which, in turn, would lead to the abolition movement in Great Britain.

The creative team for the production includes scenic and costume designer Jean Chan, lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli, sound designer and co-composer Dave Price, movement director Ingrid Mackinnon, assistant director Nadia Williams and dramatherapist Samantha Adams. Projections are by Will Duke with Tom Newell of Limbic Cinema.

Terera said: "The Meaning of Zong is about the value of humanity and what we're prepared to do to defend that. I wanted to tell this story because it explains how we all arrived at the Britain we are living in today. It explains why people feel the need to pull statues down. We can better understand where we are by acknowledging how we got here. It is a difficult subject but the best stories, though they can be the hardest to face are often the most rewarding."

Commissioned by Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre, the piece was first presented as a staged reading back in 2018 and the planned 2020 production was reimagined as a radio play, due to the pandemic, airing on BBC Radio 3.

This first full-scale production runs in Bristol from 2 to 9 April and then from 26 April to 7 May, and will also play at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh (13 to 23 April) and Liverpool Playhouse (10 to 14 May).