Much ado about BP sponsorship as West End play hit by protest

Much Ado About BP from Zoe Broughton on Vimeo.

Tonight, members of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company jumped on stage at the Noël Coward theatre to deliver another surprise anti-BP performance. Just before the second half of a BP-sponsored Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performance of Much Ado About Nothing was due to begin, the three actor-vists performed a short Shakespeare-inspired piece. They challenged the RSC over its decision to accept sponsorship from BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster, the company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands oil in Canada, and its enormous contribution towards climate change. Yesterday it was announced that BP has entered a partnership with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft in order to exploit the hazardous and vulnerable Arctic.

‘I want not your dirty ducats!’ – photo by David Hoffman

This was the eighth intervention by the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, the most recent taking place at Stratford-upon-Avon last month. In the two-minute sketch, ‘BP’, sporting a huge logo as a ruff, sidles up to ‘RSC’, and offers ‘a thousand ducats’ for her help in ‘seeming virtuous’ . They shake hands on the deal as ‘BP’ proclaims ‘By your reputation, I shall mine own mend’. ‘RSC’ eventually recognises the error of her ways, bellowing ‘I want not your dirty ducats’ and asking ‘Did’st not Formula One live on without tobacco sponsorship?’ before ripping the BP logo from her chest. The audience responded with laughter and applause. The full script can be found below.

One actor applauded the performance and thanked the performers personally straight afterwards. Another cast member, Muzz Khan, sent a series of supportive tweets, beginning with: ‘They did it! I didn’t think they WOULD but they did! Fair play to @ReclaimOurBard – glad you were able to… #protest.

A series of supportive tweets from Muzz Khan, one of the RSC actors who witnessed the guerilla Shakespeare performance

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 new RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran – who also directed this production of Much Ado About Nothing – to see if he continues the relationship beyond the World Shakespeare Festival. Pressure on cultural institutions to consider the ethics of their sponsorship deals is currently high following the National Gallery’s decision to end a long-running sponsorship deal with an arms company earlier this month.

RSC: You seek my help in being virtuous? BP: Nay, I seek your help in SEEMING virtuous! – photo by David Hoffman

Sarah Shoraka, who played ‘the RSC’ in the guerilla Shakespeare performance, said: “With a new Artistic Director in Gregory Doran I hope the RSC will tackle head-on the issue of controversial corporate sponsorship and adopt an ethical code that clearly marks highly-polluting oil companies like BP as beyond the pale”.

David Shakespeare, who played the part of ‘BP’, said “As one of our country’s most respected cultural institutions, the RSC should not allow itself to be used by such a destructive and dangerous company as BP. I feel it’s improper that they can gain positive publicity through associating their brand with our cultural heritage.”


The script

BP: Good Sir, most reverend Royal Shakespeare Company
Stay a while and hear my plan.
I have of late been much maligned
For my oil-seeking exploits in the Arctic,
Canada and the Gulf of Mexico.
People think me a plain-dealing villain.
It must needs be remedied.

RSC: You seek my help in being virtuous?

BP: Nay, I seek your help in seeming virtuous.
For a thousand ducats, thou shall proclaim
My innocence to these simple people,
To wash away the memories of my misdeeds,
Distract them from the destruction of the earth.

RSC: A thousand ducats: tis a fine price! (aside)

BP: By your reputation, I will mine own mend

RSC: Let’s unite our logos in a bond without end!

BP: Here are thy words. [handing her a script and pinning a logo to her chest]

[RSC steps forward to read BP’s words]

RSC: Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to this performance sponsored by BP.
We are proud to be sponsored by BP and we feel that this in no way compromises our integrity!
BP has been undeservedly maligned in the public imagination,
Yet they are stuffed with all honourable virtues.
They sponsor us for their love of the arts, not for cheap publicity!
Sustainability is obviously at the heart of what they do
And burning fossil fuels helps improve the world for the next generation…

[breaking off from the script]

RSC: What is this? I want not thy dirty ducats!

[Thrusts back the script to BP]

RSC: Did’st not Formula One live without tobacco sponsorship? I must apply a moral medicine to this mortifying mischief. Out damned logo! [rips logo from chest]

3 thoughts on “Much ado about BP sponsorship as West End play hit by protest

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