BP sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival came under fire again last night, as two singers added an unexpected musical prologue to the RSC’s performance of ‘Twelfth Night’ at Stratford-upon-Avon. They were protesting about the oil company’s failure to clean up after the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster, as well as its decisions to drill in the Arctic, extract the highly polluting Canadian Tar Sands, and continue to take the world on a path towards disastrous runaway climate change.
The two members of the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company” walked onto the stage before the start of the performance and made their a cappella intervention with these words:
‘When I hear that BP story
Green and yellow melancholy
Does the drill that pierces the Arctic bear my name?
Does the drill that pierces the Arctic bear their name?
Does the drill that pierces the Arctic bear your name?
Does the drill that pierces the Arctic bear our name?’
One of the singers, Andrew Shilston, said ‘These days it’s hard to connect to the horror of what’s being done – possibly in our name – by oil companies. Human lives, countless species and entire ecosystems are being systematically crushed by them. BP is leading the charge but attempting to hide behind a fig leaf of sponsorship.’
‘By singing about these dark times, we wanted to bypass the head and engage with the heart of each audience member. I don’t think we reached everyone, but many applauded our necessary folly as we left the theatre, and we had the sense that there are many RSC employees who would dearly love to see the BP logo missing from posters for future productions.’
This action follows an intervention on Monday 23rd April by two other members of the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company”, who performed an anti-BP “Guerrilla Shakespeare” soliloquy before an RSC performance of The Tempest. Also on Monday, 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.