To mark Shakespeare’s birthday and the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival, a group of merry players calling themselves the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company” took unexpectedly to the stage in Stratford-upon-Avon tonight, just before a Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performance of The Tempest. The actors performed a short piece drawing on The Tempest and other Shakespearean works, to challenge the RSC over its decision to accept sponsorship from BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster and the oil company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands in Canada. Whilst on stage in front of the surprised but supportive audience, the lead actor soliloquised: “What country, friends, is this? Where the words of our most prized poet / Can be bought to beautify a patron / So unnatural as British Petroleum? / They, who have incensed the seas and shores / From a dark deepwater horizon.” The performance concluded with the words “Let us break their staff that would bewitch us! / Out damned logo!”. On saying this, the performer ripped the BP logo from his theatre programme. The full script can be found here.
The audience applauded, and were then invited to follow the actors’ lead by tearing the BP logo from their theatre programme when they exit the theatre.
The performance marks the public launch of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company’s website and manifesto, “BP or not BP?”. It comes on the same day as a letter was published in the Guardian from a group of theatre and arts professionals, including Mark Rylance, criticising the RSC for “allowing itself to be used by BP to obscure the destructive reality of its activities with a veneer of respectability.”
BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival and the “What country friends is this?” trilogy of plays at the RSC is part of a massive sponsorship deal for the Olympics, which also includes being Oil & Gas Partner and Sustainability Partner to the Games themselves. This sponsorship has already triggered a wave of criticism, including a hijacking of the Olympics website that persuaded some media outlets that BP had been dropped as Sustainability Partner, and the launch last week of the “Greenwash Gold” awards for worst Olympics sponsor.
Richard Howlett, who took part in the guerilla Shakespeare performance, said: “The RSC have chosen to put BP’s money in their purse. Yet he’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf. BP is doing everything in its power to let not the public see its deep and dark desires – fossil fuel expansion and ecological devastation. BP is the harlot’s cheek, beautied with sponsoring art. It is the greenwash monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on, and the RSC have made themselves complicit in its crimes. If this were play’d upon a stage now, we could condemn it as an improbable fiction!”
Miranda Shaw, another of the players, said “Times are tough. Ay, there’s the rub. But all that glisters is not gold. And whilst comparisons are odorous, we do well remember the dropping of tobacco companies as sponsors by a host of cultural institutions. The arts continued, and so shall the RSC, freed from the grasp of this smiling damned villain. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!”
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The Reclaim Shakespeare Company is supported by the UK Tar Sands Network