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. These men signed passages within the text, which they found particularly moving, meaningful and profound. The selection of text provides fascinating insight into the minds, thinking and soul of those political prisoners who fought for the transformation of South Africa. It also speaks to the power of Shakespeare’s resonance with the human spirit regardless of place or time. But, as Sonny explains it, he just wanted a ‘souvenir’ of his time in the single cells. This verbatim play is based on interviews that Hahn conducted in 2008 & 2010 with eight former political prisoners who signed this book intertwined with the chosen Shakespearian texts.
There have been numerous staged readings of the play including the Cape Town Shakespeare Society, Mitchell Library, Glasgow, Scotland [as part of the Connect ZA Season / Commonwealth Games], Montana Shakespeare Festival [April 2014], South Africa House, London [April & June 2014], Oxford University [April 2014], Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC [June 2013], the British Museum in London, UK [October 2012], the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre in London, UK [June 2012], the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, SA [February 2010], the Richmond Theatre in Richmond, UK [March 2009] and the Robben Island Museum in Cape Town, SA [February 2009].
Dissemination of the play and supporting research and development includes college workshops at the Southwest Gauteng College in Soweto, South Africa on ‘Ethical Leadership’ [August 2014], a paper focusing on the archive and dissemination of the audio and video records of the play at the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative: Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town [August 2014], a paper at Wits University for their ‘Cultural Leadership’ module [August 2014], a paper for the African Theatre Association [July 2013].
The Bodleian Library at Oxford University stores the archive video, play script, transcripts, audio & blog.
For more information about the play, The Robben Island Bible, please visit this website: