Theatre staff failed to stop members of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company jumping on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon and delivering a surprise anti-BP performance in front of a full house.

On Saturday (29th September 2012), a group of merry players known as the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company” took unexpectedly to the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Five minutes before a BP-sponsored Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performance of Twelfth Night was due to begin, the three actor-vists performed a short Twelfth Night-inspired piece. They challenged the RSC over its decision to accept sponsorship from BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster and the company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands oil in Canada.

This was the seventh intervention by the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, and the third on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage. In the two-minute sketch, ‘BP’ swaggers on to the stage, sporting a huge logo as a ruff and yellow stockings cross-gartered with green, and proclaims: ‘If oil be the fuel for us, drill on! / Give us excess of it that, surfeiting, / the planet may sicken, and so die…’ The ‘RSC’ then declares her love for ‘BP’: ‘British Petrolio! By the roses of the spring, / by branding, sponsorship and everything, / I love thee so…’ Feste interrupts, appalled at the tableau: ‘Alas, poor RSC, how hath BP baffled thee?’, pointing out that ‘some are born green. Some achieve greenness, / And SOME purchase a semblance of greenness by sponsoring cultural events.’ ‘RSC’ soon realises the error of her ways, finally announcing ‘I would I were well rid of this knavery. / Out damned logo!’ with which she rips the BP logo from the RSC programme as ‘BP’ falls to his knees. The audience responded with laughter and applause. The full script can be found below, and lots of photos are in our gallery.

A notable pirate, a deepwater thief!

The RSC has stated publicly several times that it will allow these performances to take place. However, on the night RSC staff tried hard to stop the protest, telling the performers it was dangerous to be up on stage because there was an area of open water. The actor-vists were of course aware of this and carefully stayed well away from the water, as they had done twice before. Despite the RSC’s protestations, the performance went ahead as planned.

This comes in the wake of a wave of controversy around BP’s sponsorship of the arts and the London 2012 Olympics. Mark Rylance, one of the UK’s leading actors, has publicly expressed his concerns about BP sponsorship and RSC Playwright in Residence Mark Ravenhill revealed during a talk at the Latitude Festival that there was now a huge debate going on within the RSC about BP. As the BP-sponsored season draws to a close this month, all eyes are on the RSC to see if they continue the relationship beyond the World Shakespeare Festival.

Lots of support from audience members after the show. Photo by Zoe Broughton

Sophia Rousseau, who played ‘the RSC’ in the guerilla Shakespeare performance, said: “I believe our arts institutions should have the integrity not to accept sponsorship money from companies that are ruining our planet for profit. I hope this will be the end of BP and the RSC’s ugly friendship.”

James Atherton, who played the part of BP, said “BP shouldn’t be allowed to project their dirty ideals into people’s minds. While BP’s activities around the world are some of the most destructive and dangerous to our climate, I feel it’s improper that they can gain positive publicity through associating their brand with our cultural heritage.”

Yellow stockings, cross-gartered… Photo by Zoe Broughton

The script :

Character 1 – BP:

If oil be the fuel for us, drill on;
Give us excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The planet may sicken, and so die.
Let’s drill again! And cast a dying pall,
O’er the tar sands of sweet Canada,
The Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico,
Stealing and screwing over.

Character 2 – RSC:

British Petrolio! By the roses of the spring,
by branding, sponsorship and everything,
I love thee so, that, discarding my pride,
nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
For I do love thee for thy patronage
With adorations, fertile tears, with groans
that thunder love, with sighs of fire…

Character 3 – Feste

[Interrupts RSC]
If this were played upon a stage now,
I would condemn’t as an improbable fiction!
Alas, poor RSC, how hath BP baffled thee?
Thou hast made contract of eternal bond
With a notable pirate, a deepwater thief!
Art thou mad, to profit from such a dissembler?
For some are born green, some achieve greenness,
And some purchase a semblance of greenness by sponsoring cultural events…
I prithee, RSC, direct thy feet
Where thou and BP henceforth may never meet!

Character 2 – RSC

Enough! No more!
Oil’s not as sweet now as it was before.
BP, thou villain! How was I beguiled?
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness,
Wherein the oily enemy does much.
[Points at BP] You spread a green and yellow melancholy,
Sitting without conscience in your offices,
Smiling at grief.

I would I were well rid of this knavery.
Out damned logo! [rips logo from programme]