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'Matthew Hahn’s The Robben Island Shakespeare is indeed a manual for both the young and old in South Africa and the world, to help us charter the difficult journey of life and the survival of the human spirit, UBUNTU, against all odds.'

 - Tony Award Winning Actor & South African Cultural Activist John Kani, in his introduction to The Robben Island Shakespeare.

Between 2008 & when it was published in 2017,  Matthew Hahn researched, wrote & produced  his play based on a copy of the ‘Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ that was smuggled around Robben Island, South Africa.  The book’s ‘fame’ resides in the fact that the book’s owner, Sonny Venkatratham,  passed the book to a number of his fellow political prisoners in the single cells asking them to mark his favourite passage with a signature and date. Signatures included Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and Mac Maharaj and 28 others.   This verbatim play is based on interviews that he conducted in 2008 & 2010 with eight former political prisoners who signed this book intertwined with their chosen Shakespearian texts.  


There have been numerous performances of the play including the Southbank Centre in 2018,  Artscape Theatre [Cape Town, 2019 & 2016], the Robben Island Museum[Cape Town, 2016] Alvin Ailey Theatre [New York City, 2016] Barbican Theatre as part of the opening of the Queen Mary’s ‘Global Shakespeare’ Programme [2014]; Cape Town Shakespeare Society [2014], Mitchell Library, Glasgow, Scotland [as part of the Connect ZA Season / Commonwealth Games, 2014], Montana Shakespeare Festival [2014], South Africa House, London [April & June 2014], Oxford University [2014], Folger Shakespeare Library [Washington, DC June 2013], the British Museum [2012], the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre [London, UK 2012], the Market Theatre [Johannesburg, SA 2010], the Richmond Theatre [2009] and the Robben Island Museum [Cape Town 2009].  


The Rhodes House Commonwealth and African Studies Collection at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University  stores the archive video, play script, transcripts, audio & blog.  


The play is published by Meuthuen Bloomsbury and can be purchased here.

For up to date information about the play, please visit the Blog or  our Youtube Page.

The Robben Island Shakespeare

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