Taking “Shakespeare Inside” Out,
Colette Gordon Talks to Tauriq Jenkins about Hamlet in prison and a “first for South African theater”
Colette Gordon The Hamlet that played in December with actors from Ottery Youth Care Centre was billed as a “first for South African theater.” I believe this was the first time in South Africa a “prison production” was performed and viewed outside of incarcerated space. Could you speak a little more about this? How you perceive this first in SA theater history?
Tauriq Jenkins I see this as a crucial step toward transformation of South African theater. This production serves as an advancement toward effective representation along the lines of race and culture in South African theater. It puts away the notion that classical theater belongs only in institutions of higher learning, or on well-funded mainstream stages.
Shakespeare can account for the physical freedom of the participants. If this were a production of Hansel and Gretel, it most likely would not have been given the benefit of the doubt. This is the power of having classical theater’s blockbuster being performed by a group of so-called miscreants. The skepticism that met this project was overcome by an intense belief in its success. After a number of pre-performances in prison, it became clear that the participants were taking this on with zeal that quickly reshaped the opinions of skeptical onlookers.
The originality and intensity of this Hamlet stems from the unique archive of human experience the actors brought. The play needed to be accepted by the actors because the main focus of this performance was not the audience, as much as it was the participants themselves. This Hamlet was an exploration by those in it who become both the actor and the spectator, and the audience in this case is the witness to an event unfolding.