Tonight, a member of the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company” jumped on stage and performed a “guerilla Shakespeare” soliloquy, to highlight the role of BP – a major World Shakespeare Festival sponsor – in the war in Iraq and in environmentally damaging projects worldwide.

Tonight (28th June 2012), a member of a theatrical action group called the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company” took unexpectedly to the stage at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Five minutes before a performance of the highly acclaimed “Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad” was due to begin, this surprise warm-up act performed a short Shakespeare-inspired piece. He challenged the World Shakespeare Festival over their decision to accept sponsorship from BP, who are facing criticism in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster [1] and for the company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands oil in Canada [2].

More specifically, he accused the World Shakespeare Festival of hypocrisy for staging a play by the Iraqi Theatre Company – thus presenting themselves as a friend and supporter of Iraqi culture – whilst accepting sponsorship money from an oil company who actively lobbied for, and profited from, the military invasion of Iraq in 2003 [3].

This intervention comes hot on the heels of another Reclaim Shakespeare Company performance at the Roundhouse the previous evening, which took place just before a staging of the BP-sponsored “Comedy of Errors”. Two earlier Shakespearean stage invasions by the group took place at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in April. Meanwhile Mark Rylance, one of the UK’s leading actors, who is performing in the Olympic opening ceremony, expressed his concerns about BP’s sponsorship of the Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad (of which the World Shakespeare Festival is part) on Radio 4’s Today Programme just last week.

Tonight’s actor-vist – also known as performance poet Pete The Temp – greeted the 250-strong audience in both English and Arabic. He then delivered a passionate two-minute soliloquy inspired by Romeo and Juliet, in which he called BP “a beast, that fuels the fire of climate change / With black fountains issuing from its veins on pain of torture from its bloody hands.” He explained BP’s involvement in the war in Iraq, and addressed the World Shakespeare Festival with the words: “as you take contract you raise their stature, you serve them licence / I ne’er saw true hypocrisy till this night / O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? / Deny thy sponsor and refuse thy logo.” There was loud applause from the audience, and the performer then invited them to rip the BP logo from their theatre programmes. The full script can be seen below.

BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival is part of a massive sponsorship deal for the Olympics, which also includes being Oil & Gas Partner and Sustainability Partner to the Games themselves, with the company’s next wave of Olympics-themed advertising due to be launched tomorrow. 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, the launch of the “Greenwash Gold” awards for worst Olympics sponsor, which offer the public the choice to vote for BP, Dow Chemical and Rio Tinto, and an Early Day Motion in Parliament, which is being signed by MPs.

Pete the Temp, explaining the thinking behind the guerilla Shakespeare performance, said: “BP are using arts sponsorship to try to distract us from their dirty deeds, and by taking their money the World Shakespeare Festival have made themselves complicit in this. But we won’t be fooled – BP still haven’t cleaned up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, they’re launching hugely polluting projects in the Canadian tar sands and the Arctic, and are dragging us headlong towards runaway climate change.

He continued: “We now know from leaked minutes and memos that BP lobbied hard to get the British government to take part in the invasion of Iraq, in order to secure as many profitable oilfields for themselves as possible. They then succeeded in stitching up an incredibly favourable deal for Iraq’s biggest oilfield, that guarantees them compensation from the Iraqi taxpayer if the oil flow is ever interrupted. Taking money from this company whilst simultaneously staging a play set in war-torn Baghdad shows the World Shakespeare Festival to either be unthinkingly callous or breathtakingly hypocritical.”

Notes

[1] On April 20th, 2010, an explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and caused a rapid stream of crude oil to begin gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. It flowed unabated for the next three months, releasing just under 200 million gallons into the ocean – the largest marine oil accident in US history. The effects of the disaster continue to devastate coastal ecosystems, local livelihoods and residents’ health along the Gulf Coast. See http://gizmodo.com/5903021/bp-oil-spill-aftermath-eyeless-shrimp-clawless-crabs-and-fish-with-oozing-sores

[2] In December 2010, BP announced it was going ahead with a £1.6 billion investment in its first tar sands extraction project in Canada. Tar sands are one of the most polluting forms of fossil fuel on earth, and trample on the rights of local Indigenous people. They are a kind of oily deposit that take huge amounts of energy and water to extract and refine into usable oil. This extraction causes huge damage to the local environment, and has serious effects on the health of local people and workers. BP is now making major investments in this risky, capital-intensive, highly-polluting unconventional oil. See http://www.no-tar-sands.org/what-are-the-tar-sands/ and http://www.ienearth.org/tarsands.html

[3] For more information on BP’s lobbying in favour of, and then profiting from, the Iraq war, see Greg Muttit’s book Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (Bodley Head, April 2011), as well as the following press articles:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jul/31/bp-stranglehold-iraq-oilfield-contract

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-memos-expose-link-between-oil-firms-and-invasion-of-iraq-2269610.html

http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-04-23/surprise-surprise-iraq-war-was-about-oil

http://www.fuelonthefire.com/index.php?page=coverage

The Reclaim Shakespeare Company is supported by the UK Tar Sands Network (www.no-tar-sands.org)

Full text of the script:

There will now be a two minute performance by the Reclaim Shakespeare Company about BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival.

Two households, BP and the World Shakespeare Festival, both lacking in dignity, in befouled Iraq where we lay our scene

For oil feud breaks to new hypocrisy where civil blood makes their money unclean

BP, O most wicked fiend, you did conspire to bring Iraq to her knees.

The Iraq war was all about oil, and BP was a key player.

BP worked closely with the British government before and during the March 2003 invasion, to get a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves.

The Foreign Office met with BP in November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post-regime change”. The minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”

Baroness Symons, the Trade Minister, then successfully lobbied the Bush administration on BP’s behalf to secure oil deals.

Post-Iraq war, the deal for operating Iraq’s largest oilfield was rewritten in BP’s favour. BP will now be immediately compensated for civil disruption or if the government decides to cut production.

So we say to the World Shakespeare Festival:

How dare thee house the Black Gold of this villain?

BP is a beast, that fuels the fire of climate change, with black fountains issuing from its veins on pain of torture from its bloody hands. I hate that company as I hate hell.

But BP has not been punishèd but pardoned.

World Shakespeare Festival, as you take contract you raise their stature, you serve them licence.

I ne’er saw true hypocrisy till this night.
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy sponsor and refuse thy logo.

Never was a story of more woe than the sponsorship of our Juliet and her Romeo.

If you share our concern about BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival we invite you to rip BP’s logo from your programme. Thank you, and enjoy tonight’s show.

End