Montana State University

MSU honors birthday of Shakespeare, anniversary of Mandela election with play set April 15-17

April 9, 2014

Playwright Matthew Hahn will visit MSU in connection with the performances of his play, “The Robben Island Bible,” April 15-17 at MSU’s Black Box Theater.    High-Res Available

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In celebration of the 450th birthday of Shakespeare and the 20th anniversary of the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa, MSU will host performances of the play, “The Robben Island Bible,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, and Thursday, April 17, at Montana State University’s Black Box Theatre at 11th and Grant. The performances are free and open to the public.

Dramatist Matthew Hahn, author of the play and a professor at St. Mary’s University College in the U.K., will visit MSU in connection with the performances. He will lecture on the research and development of the play from 3-5 p.m. Wednesday, April 16, in room 339 of Leon Johnson Hall.

The Robben Island Bible was actually a volume of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” surreptitiously distributed among the prisoners of the now infamous jail, including the late Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned there for 18 years before the fall of apartheid.  The play, sponsored by the MSU Honors College in collaboration with the College of Arts and Architecture and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, is based on selected texts from South African Sonny Venkatrathnam's copy of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” as well as interviews with former political prisoners held on the island prison.

In the 1970’s, Venkatrathnam, a prisoner at Robben Island, received ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare” during a time when prisoners were briefly allowed to have one book. The book’s fame resides in the fact that Venkatrathnam passed the book on to a number of his fellow political prisoners, including Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki. In all, 33 men marked passages in the book that they found moving, meaningful and profound. The production provides insight into the minds, thinking and soul of the men who fought for the transformation of South Africa. It also speaks to the power of Shakespeare’s words, regardless of place or time.

A cast of four actors selected from top-tier American regional theaters will perform in the play, under the direction of Kevin Asselin, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks’ artistic director.

Hahn is a theatre director, drama lecturer and workshop leader in the UK and Africa. He is a senior lecturer at St. Mary’s University’s Applied Theatre Course where he teaches Theatre for Development. He also works for Theatre for a Change in Ghana and Malawi. 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. Matthew has a degree in political science and journalism from Indiana University and is a graduate of the Goldsmiths College Masters in Theatre Directing program.

Seating for performances of the play is limited. Tickets may be reserved by calling (406) 994-4110.


Ilse-Mari Lee (406) 994-4689