The Women of Llanrumney Review: A fearless and unflinching look at a hidden chapter of Wales’ colonial history – By Julia Bottoms


Keziah Josephs as Cerys (left), Nia Roberts as Elizabeth (middle), Suzanne Packer as Annie (right)


A fearless and unflinching look at a hidden chapter of Wales’ colonial history, The Women of Llanrumney is a hard-hitting historical drama playing at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff. Directed by Patricia Logue, The Women of Llanrumney is Azuka Oforka’s full length debut play; its searing address to the consequences of slavery is profoundly moving. Its presentation of black female resistance renders it a masterful process of cathartic reckoning and a tribute to women’s survival under unimaginable oppression.

1765, Saint Mary Parish, Colonial Jamaica. Upon the Llanrumney sugar plantation, Annie (Suzanne Packer) and her daughter Cerys (Keziah Josephs) are both enslaved under plantation owner, Elizabeth Morgan (Nia Roberts). Elizabeth is a fictional descendent of Henry Morgan, who himself is a historically real slave owner from Cardiff who owned three plantations in Jamaica. Annie and Cerys’ future is put on the line as Elizabeth is faced with the loss of the plantation. In hopes of saving Llanrumney, Elizabeth consults each of the play’s three white male characters for a solution, Simon Taylor, Tommy Flynn and Mr Ainsworth (all three expertly played by Matthew Gravelle). Despite this, she ultimately resorts to selling the plantation, along with Annie and Cerys, as she plans her return to Monmouthshire. However, her plans are thwarted through the dramatic finale in which the plantation slaves rise up and stage a rebellion against the slave owners of Saint Mary Parish.

The play revolves around the domestic space of The Great House, a dramatic foil to the unseen but ever-present horrors of the cane plantation field just outside. Stella-Jane Odoemelam’s set design transforms the Sherman Studio into the wilting beauty and draining vitality of The Great House. ‘Once a palace with queens’, The Great House has seemingly slipped into decay, evoked by the subtle rot that has set into the edges of the furniture and the speckles of mould growing on the ceiling. The imagery of decay represents Elizabeth’s dying grasp over her livelihood, creating the sense of something lost under the sweltering pressures of a hot Jamaican summer, whilst also warning of the fiery rebellion that begins to fester within the very walls of The Great House.

Keziah Josephs as Cerys (left) and Suzanne Packer as Annie (right)


Suzanne Packer is magnificent as Annie in her vicious fight for survival, evocatively and empathetically depicting the realities of an enslaved woman making the very best of life’s conditions at the bottom of the gender and racial hierarchy. Hungover, debauched, messy and playful, Nia Roberts commands the stage as Elizabeth. She unravels the depths of Elizabeth’s hypocrisy and bigotry as she turns to blame Annie for the loss of her livelihood. And Keziah Joseph simply shines as Cerys, the revolutionary young radical who embodies the fomenting rebellion stirring upon the plantation.

Central to the play are questions of female autonomy and survival enacted by the power struggle between the three women. Whilst each complex and nuanced character begs an examination of the competing politics of patriarchy and racism within 18th-century colonial Jamaica, the play never loses its focus on ultimately championing the black female slave’s enduring spirit of resistance and strength. The play resists playing into tired stereotypes, presenting an intellectually and emotionally stimulating examination of ‘those who benefitted from slavery, those who were brutalised by it and those who fought to destroy it’.

Nia Roberts as Elizabeth (left) and Suzanne Packer as Annie (right)


Packer expertly navigates Annie’s metamorphosis. At first, Annie is depicted to exist only within the house, embedded into the domestic routines of the household, as Packer seamlessly inherits Annie’s mannerisms, dialect and expressions with a sense of realism. As Annie grows to reject servitude for her autonomy, she manifests a reversal of the dynamic between slaver and enslaved as Elizabeth ultimately begs Annie to help her make her escape from the approaching rebels. Despite the play’s weight, Packer and Robert create pockets of much-needed comic relief within the play’s searing moments of brutality. Packer plays up aspects of physical comedy as Annie incredulously cries ‘You said no?’ to Elizabeth’s refusal of Tommy Flynn’s sexual proposition. Punctuated by arresting contrasts of tone however, the play’s comedic elements are juxtaposed with stories of the grotesque punishments endured by slaves on the plantation. The play’s ingenuity lies in such moments, where the audience are stopped in their tracks mid-laughter to deeply consider the implications of humour in such a context. Indeed, the uncomfortable gaps between laughter and overwhelming silence serve to further illuminate the play’s thought provoking conceptions.

Andy Pike’s lighting design cleverly illuminate the Jamaican cherry leaves that throw ominous shadows across the stage. As night approaches, the pallid domestic interior of The Great House is displaced by bright fiery orange and green lights tonally associated with visual African culture, representing the heritage of the enslaved rebels who rise up and reclaim The Great House as a space of rebellion. Moreover, Ian Barnard’s sound design furthers such sensory allusions through the slow thudding of tribal African drums and chanting which accelerate in intensity and pace as the rebellion ignites. The evocative underscoring of cicadas and rustling leaves reach a deafening crescendo, representing the kindling of a rebellious spirit growing amongst the slave collective.

Keziah Josephs as Cerys


Cery’s monologue serves as a standout moment; a brave feminist like Harriet Tubman, Cerys proclaims love and communal connection as a revolutionary act, a moment in which we see Joseph at her most formidable.

‘They take our names, our languages, our culture but they can not take our love for each other, that is something they can’t touch or destroy. Understand?’

Joseph executes Cerys’ iron-willed militancy with utter conviction, consummately capturing the sheer bravery and merit of Oforka’s writing.

As the second half marches towards climax, the production refuses to loosen its grip on the audience even for one moment; every gesture, noise and beat plays seamlessly into the next moment, transfixing the audience. Annie’s stirring final moments on stage are unforgettable as she climbs the table and passionately joins in the chanting ‘ye nye nkowa bio’ (we are no longer slaves). Indeed, the electrifying finale was so rousing it compelled the audience to ‘rise up’ for a lengthy standing ovation.

Talking to director Patricia Logue after the show, she discussed how the play explores the dark history of slavery from a Welsh perspective whilst many historiographies have focused on a solely English or American standpoint. As Henry Morgan’s portrait on the wall of The Great House gazes over the stage throughout, he occupies a spectral presence, encapsulating how the colonial legacy of the past invariably haunts the present. The production’s resolute examination of Wales’ colonial responsibility represent a progressive and previously unexplored avenue of dramatic representation that has not elsewhere been handled with as much realist accuracy and searing relevancy to our present.

The Women of Llanrumney hits uncomfortably close to home – that is precisely its power. Demanding the audience bear witness to its blistering realities, The Women of Llanrumney apotheosises theatre’s unique capacity to share these women’s urgent stories today.


The Women of Llanrumney  was held at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.

Photos by Ana Pinto