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This moving and horrific tale of slavery makes an exceptional theatrical experience

Updated: May 24

REVIEW: The Women of Llanrumney at Sherman Theatre


Wales’s role in slavery is thrown into the spotlight in a remarkable and powerful new play at the Sherman Theatre.


Azuka Oforka’s historical drama The Women of Llanrumney is often moving, sometimes surprisingly funny, and at times absolutely horrific in its portrayal of 18th century slaves and their owners.


Set on the Llanrumney plantation (named after the the South Wales village home of its owners, the Morgan family) in Jamaica in 1765, it focuses on the lives of three women.


More interested in partying and flirting, plantation owner Elisabeth Morgan (Nia Roberts) has mismanaged the Llanrumney estate to the point of collapse.


If she can't find the money to pay her debts, she will lose her property, her status and her home, and will have to return to Wales to start again.


But for the other women of Llanrumney, the stakes are higher: enslaved housekeeper Annie (Suzanne Packer) and her pregnant daughter, Cerys (Keziah Joseph), who has recently been moved from the fields to a domestic role in the Great House, are regarded as 'livestock' and part of the property.


If Elisabeth sells up, she sells them too - potentially to owners who are even more brutal.


She has options to avoid this disaster - there are three rich men (all played by Matthew Gravelle) who could help. But will they? And what will it mean for Annie and Cerys?


The Women of Llanrumney is the full-length debut play by Azuka Oforka, an alumna of Sherman Theatre’s Unheard Voices writer development programme. And what a debut! This an outstanding piece of writing - entertaining, moving, and educational, without lecturing.


The cast is superb, headed by Suzanne Packer and Nia Roberts, a world away from their recent TV roles together in BBC's Tree on a Hill. All four actors convincingly convey the huge range and depth of emotions brought to the fore by these shocking events and appalling circumstances.


And the small scale of the Sherman studio means the audience is close to the action. We're drawn in, uncomfortably close to the real-life experiences on this "barbaric island".


It's a society of inhuman cruelty, where people are seen as animals to be bought and sold. But in this remarkable play, thanks to a supremely talented cast and creative team, the humanity shines through it all.

The director, Sherman Theatre associate artist Patricia Logue, deserves huge praise for helping to bring the words to life - and I was able to congratulate her personally, having been lucky enough to meet her after last night's (Wednesday 22 May) performance.


Designer Stella-Jane Odoemelam transforms the studio space into the fading grandeur of Llanrumney's Great House. And the sound (Ian Barnard) and lighting (Andy Pike) designers enhance the illusion that we are there, in this land of "brutality and wickedness" with its oppressive heat, its stench of death, and with potential rebellion bubbling under the surface.


At last night's (Wednesday 22 May) press night, the audience responded with a standing ovation. Apparently, and unsurprisingly, it's been like this since it opened last week.


This is a truly oustanding play, which deserves to be seen by a larger audience. It has another week to run, but all performances are currently sold out. I really hope it can find another home, perhaps go on tour, or find its way to our screens in some form.


As a second-best option, you can buy the playtext as a paperback from the box office for £7.


We don't give ratings in our reviews, but if we did, this would get five stars, A++, 10 out of 10. It's an exceptional and memorable theatrical experience. I can't praise it enough.


The Women of Llanrumney plays at Sherman Theatre until Saturday 1 June. All performances are currently sold out, but you can check the theatre website for any availability updates. You can also join the waiting list by calling the box office on 029 2064 6900.


Review by Andy Weltch

Photos by Ana Pinto


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