Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Our Goals for this R&D project:

We am in the process of devising a play based on Mr. Sonny Venkatrathnam's copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, infamously known as the 'Robben Island Bible'. We will be in South Africa next week to develop the play with the signatories of the ‘Bible’ and South African actors which will culminate in a presentation of our findings in late November to the veterans, other stakeholders, and the general public in South Africa & in the United Kingdom.

In January, the playwright David Taylor & I met with the South African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ms Lindiwe Mabuza, who expressed great enthusiasm for the project and has given us her full support. The High Commissioner contacted Dr. John Kani, who has also given his support to the project. The High Commissioner has also agreed to contact the former President Thabo Mbeki to aid us with the research and development of this project as his father was also one of the signatories. We have also spoken with Ms. Jean September at the British Council in South Africa who has agreed to assist us with the production.

The project centres on a devised play that intertwines the Shakespearian text chosen by the political prisoners with dialogue taken from interviews with them. We will use the stories behind their choices as the basis for the theatrical production.

This project has great potential not only in terms of theatrical but also educational outcomes. Working with a range of both young actors in the early stages of learning their craft and experienced actors, such as Dr. John Kani, we will be providing the opportunity to further understand the social, political, and historical significance of Robben Island in connection with the way literature served as a means of providing resistance and hope to the comrades.

We will also be providing the opportunity for those audiences who might be too young to remember the Apartheid era through a tour of the final production throughout schools in Southern Africa and in the United Kingdom. It is important to us, as the director & playwright of the piece, to find as much first person information as possible. Each person's contribution is invaluable to the production and will provide validity to the work. The genesis of the questioning will be to ascertain why they chose these passages. This might include revisiting the time when Sonny shared The Complete Works with his fellow prisoners, using reminiscence theatre techniques which will aid the comrades by providing memory ‘triggers’ such as Sonny’s copy of the plays, video, photographs, visits to Robben Island or Robben Island Museum.

Due to the nature of the project, we have placed great emphasis on international collaboration. Our aim is to seek working partnerships more of the Comrades who signed their names whilst on Robben Island and a variety of professional and non-professional actors throughout South Africa.

To date, we have the support of Mr. Venkatrathnam and Dr. Kani, the British Council in South Africa, the UK South African High Commissioner, St. Mary's University-College in Twickenham, UK and two of the Bible's signatories.

This project will:
- For the first time on stage, unite the words of William Shakespeare to the thoughts, hopes, resistance, struggle and resilience of the political prisoners held on Robben Island in the second half of the twentieth century in South Africa.
- Use passages selected by the prisoners as the backbone of the production to construct a piece of theatre that will aim to inform and entertain a wide-reaching audience.

In undertaking our research and development in South Africa, we plan the following:

Week 1
Playwright & director use available resources at the Robben Island Museum to further their knowledge
Weeks 2 / 3
Interviews with comrades at the Robben Island Museum
Weeks 4 / 5 / 6
Develop stories from the interviews and play framework with South African students and actors.
End of Week 6 Show their progress to the comrades and an audience of stakeholders and public to review the work.

Upon return to the United Kingdom, we plan to finalise the project and to work with our partners here and in South Africa who are interested in producing the play.