Surprise theatrical protest inside British Museum over BP sponsorship of Shakespeare and the Olympics

RSC at the British Museum from rikki indymedia on Vimeo.

Today, twelve members of the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company” staged an unexpected protest performance inside the Shakespeare: Staging the World exhibition at the British Museum

Today at 3.30pm, a dozen members of the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company” theatrical action group launched a surprise piece of protest performance inside the British Museum. They performed a short Shakespeare-inspired piece which criticised the British Museum, the World Shakespeare Festival and the London Olympics over their 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.

The pop-up performance took place in the Reading Room, surrounded by artefacts linked to Shakespeare’s life and works. Visitors to the BP-sponsored exhibition were treated to a 4-minute guerrilla performance based loosely on Macbeth, in which three BP “executive witches” lure a naive museum director to his doom. The performance was interrupted by an ‘angry customer’ who seemed to be criticising the performance but then turned out to be a protester in disguise, and who finished with the words:  “No more o’this, BP, no more / You mar all with your logo / Here’s the smell of oil still / All these shiny exhibits will not sweeten this soiled hand. Oh, oh, oh! / Out, damned sponsor! Out, BP!” These final words were greeted with laughter and applause by museum-goers. The full script can be seen below.

A security guard attempts to stop the performance but instead accidentally rips the BP logo out of the Museum Director’s exhibition programme – thanks! Photo by David Hoffman.

The performer asked the watching crowd to rip the BP logo from their exhibition programmes. At this point, security guards moved in to break the performance up but the troupe continued to perform as they were then escorted from the Museum foyer in front of hundreds of museum-goers. The security guards were even incorporated into the performance, with the protesters congratulating them loudly for removing the BP executives from the building. The performance was then repeated outside the Museum for passers-by.

BP’s Wyrd Executives are removed from the Museum by security, accompanied by loud declarations of approval from the other performers. Photo by David Hoffman.

This was the fifth such intervention by the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, the first two having taken place on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage in Stratford-upon-Avon], the third at the Roundhouse Theatre and the fourth at the Riverside Studio before a performance of Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad. Meanwhile Mark Rylance, one of the UK’s leading actors, has 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 and the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival – which includes the British Museum exhibition – 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 the ‘Greenwash Gold’ awards for worst Olympics sponsor, which culminated on Friday with a stunt in Trafalgar Square in which seven people were arrested for “criminal damage” for spilling green custard on the ground.

Philippa de Boissiere, who played one of the BP executives in the guerrilla Shakespeare performance, said: “I have been to Canada and seen the devastating effects of tar sands oil extraction on the environment and Indigenous communities. BP is cynically splashing money all over our arts, culture and sporting institutions to try to fool the public into believing it’s a socially responsible company. It’s nothing of the sort, as shown by its decision to go into the tar sands and its failure to clean up after the Gulf of Mexico spill.”

Danny Chivers, who played the role of the museum director, said “The British Museum has a history of taking BP’s cash and thus helping to hide the company’s terrible environmental and human rights record behind a veneer of respectability. BP brazenly admits in its most recent Annual Report that its current business plan is based on a future of disastrous runaway climate change. The company is trying to draw attention away from its catastrophic fossil-fuelled energy plans by sponsoring the Olympics and the World Shakespeare Festival. We’re here to stop BP from using our beloved bard as a mask for its misdeeds.”

You can also find the campaign on Facebook: ‘BP or not BP?’ and Twitter: @ReclaimOurBard

The Reclaim Shakespeare Company is supported by the UK Tar Sands Network.

Full text of the script below:

The British Museum: A Tale of Corruption

 Dramatis Personae

First BP Executive

Second BP Executive

Third BP Executive

Angry Customer

Chorus of Exhibition Viewers

The Scene: The Round Reading Room

Chanting begins from somewhere. Soon a few more voices join in, quietly and relatively unobtrusively.

Double, double: oil and trouble,
Tar sands burn, as greenwash bubbles

Three BP Executives are circulating/circling the room. As they begin to speak, they join together in the centre and the chanting stops.

 First BP Executive

When shall BP meet again
In oil spills, tar sands, toxic rain?

 Second BP Executive

When the sponsorship is done,
PR battle fought and won.

Third BP Executive

That will be ere: 2012.

First BP Executive

Where the place?

Second BP Executive

The British Museum.

Third BP Executive

Here to meet with…

ALL BP Executives

Our good friend, the Museum Director!

Oily ambassador, artefact collector

First BP Executive

To help us banish remembrance

of crude-oiled-turtles!

Second BP Executive

Pelican coughs!

Third BP Executive

11 Deepwater workers’ lives

First BP Executive


Second BP Executive


Third BP Executive

-in a flash!

ALL BP Executives

A drum, a drum!

The museum doth come!

Enter Museum Director, elegant, cultured, calm.

All BP Executives

All hail, Museum! Hail to thee, thane of Great Russell Street!


I bid you welcome, corporate queens and kings

Come throw your parties ‘mongst our priceless things!

As the BP Executives proceed with their chant, they begin to surround the Director, covering him in BP stickers.

First BP Executive

Round about the globe we go;
Into the ocean oil we throw.
Tar, that lurks beneath the ground,
Uproots and kills without a sound.

Fish lie dead, nothing survives

While back in London our brand thrives

ALL BP Executives

Double, double: oil and trouble,
Tar sands burn, as greenwash bubbles.

Second BP Executive

Mountains of our filthy cash

In bank accounts: an awesome stash;

Greenhouse gas, a Gulf in grief,

We’re always lurking there, beneath.

Dodgy dealings give us pounds

Towards the champagne/caviar rounds.

ALL BP Executives

Double, double: oil and trouble,
Tar sands burn, as greenwash bubbles.

Other chorus members, placed at different parts of the room, begin to join in the BP Executives chant.

BP Executives and chorus members (repeats)

Double, double: oil and trouble,
Tar sands burn, as greenwash bubbles.

During the chant the Director becomes fully lured and joins in.

An ANGRY CUSTOMER strides into the middle of the theatre troupe.


Look, do you mind? We’ve paid a lot of money to see this exhibition and this isn’t what we came here to see! This is completely inappropriate. How dare you do this?

The Customer turns to the Museum Director

How dare you, the British Museum, accept sponsorship from BP? You’re letting this filthy company position itself as a respectable supporter of the arts and the Olympics when it’s destroying the very planet that made all this cultural heritage possible!

Canst we not do better than this? There’s something rotten in the state of Albion!

Customer takes Director’s hands out of pockets to reveal they are now stained with oil.

What, will those hands ne’er be clean?

No more o’this, BP, no more.

You mar all with your logo.

Here’s the smell of oil still. All these shiny exhibits will not sweeten this soiled hand. Oh, oh, oh!

Out, damned sponsor! Out, BP! (BP execs cringe: ‘No! No!’)

Pause. All the performers bow. Applause. The “Museum Director” steps forward and says:

We are the Reclaim Shakespeare Company. We hope you will continue to enjoy this fascinating exhibition celebrating the life of one of the greatest playwrights that ever lived, but we invite you to remove BP from your experience by tearing the logo from your programme

The performer demonstrates the tearing of the programme

Please join with us now in removing these BP executives from the building.

The Entire Company proceeds to leave the exhibition, escorting disgruntled but defeated Execs, and resuming the chant:

Entire Company

Double, double: oil is trouble,
Let’s reduce BP to rubble


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