Monday, 15 October 2018

The Meaning of Zong

On Thursday, I went to see a workshop performance of The Meaning of Zong, a new play by Giles Terera, based on the historic case,  Gregson v Gilbert (1783). For anyone unfamiliar with it, the case involved an insurance claim by the owners of the slaveship, Zong, after it's captain and crew murdered around 135 enslaved Africans by throwing them overboard. They claimed insurance on the basis that the slaves were cargo, and had been killed on the basis of 'Absolute necessity' in order to save the crew and the rest of the 'cargo'. The insurers refused to pay and were sued, and the court at first instance ruled in favour of the owners . The insurers appealed, and were successful.

The case was not (officially, at least) about slavery, but  Olaudah Equiano managed to get anti-slavery activist, Grenville Sharp involved and publicised what happened, to support the abolitionist cause. It's likely that they also influenced the legal case put by the insurers, which argued against the treatment of people as chattels.

It's not a straight historical play, there are modern references, elements of the story which are acted out and other's 'shown' as flash backs, and  elements where direct transcripts from the court case were used. 

The play is, I believe, to be fully staged next year, but this performance was a dramatic read through. And it was extraordinary - incredibly powerful and moving, and still, 230  years after the events depicted, profoundly shocking.

I wasn't able to stay for the post show discussion,but will definitely be planning to see the show when it is fully staged .

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