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The Folger

Robben Island 'Bible' Inspires Play, Exhibit

Folger Theatre Folger Shakespeare Library logoThe Folger Shakespeare Library is presenting a free, staged reading of The Robben Island Bible, a play written and directed by Matthew Hahn, on Monday, June 3, at 7 p.m. The cast includes such well-known actors as Emmy Award–winner Andre deShields, Nasser Faris, KenYatta Rogers, and Nehal Joshi.

The play is presented in association with the upcoming Folger exhibition "A Book Behind Bars: The Robben Island Shakespeare" on view from May 25–September 29, 2013, at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

During the 1970s, political prisoners in South Africa's Robben Island prison were briefly allowed to have one book other than a religious text. South African prisoner Sonny Venkatratham asked his wife to send him The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Venkatratham then passed the book to a number of his fellow political prisoners, each marking and dating his favorite passage in the Shakespearean text. Overall, the book contains 32 signatures, including those of Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, and Mac Maharaj, all luminaries in the struggle for a democratic South Africa. Hahn interviewed many of the prisoners in 2008 and drew upon those interviews and Shakespeare's words to create a play that explores how life imitates art.

Hahn works as a theater director, drama lecturer, and workshop leader in the United Kingdom and in Africa. He is currently on the staff at London's St Mary's University College in their applied theatre course where he teaches on the theatre for development modules. He also works for Theatre for a Change in Ghana & Malawi in their education program. He has directed several productions in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He is the artistic director of the Common Air Theatre Company where he directed subVERSE, a new writing program to develop political playwrights.

Though the event is free and open to the public, reservations are recommended and can be made online at A book signing will follow.

May 20, 2013

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