‘Is this a logo I see before me?’ – we take over Tate Britain

30 members of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company take over Tate Britain’s “BP Walk Through British Art” with a noisy anti-BP performance

Protest comes shortly after two Tate members resign over gallery’s BP sponsorship

Click here to view and share a shorter version of the performance.

Today at 3pm, a 30-strong group of ‘actor-vists’ known as the ‘Reclaim Shakespeare Company’ performed a surprise anti-oil version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth inside Tate Britain’s newly-opened “BP Walk through British Art”. The unexpected performance was staged as a protest against the Tate’s controversial sponsorship deal with BP, and concluded with a noisy parade through the gallery on a busy Sunday afternoon. It was witnessed by hundreds of gallery-goers, many of whom joined in, and by the Tate Director himself Nicholas Serota.

A fake “tour guide” gathers a crowd and introduces the painting: “You’ll see we have our own live version of Lady Macbeth here too, we’ll be hearing from her in a moment”. Photo by Hugh Warwick

The unsanctioned piece of pop-up Shakespeare began beneath John Singer Sargent’s painting of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, and featured an actor-vist dressed to resemble Ellen Terry who “came to life” as part of the performance. A large crowd of gallery-goers watched, laughed and applauded as the (fictional) Tate Director “Mr Macbeth” was tempted by three evil BP executives into striking a dastardly sponsorship deal, to help conceal the oil company’s “deadly deeds” which “spread grief and chaos ‘cross lands and seas”. Over 30 audience members then revealed themselves to be part of the performance, chanting “Double double, oil is trouble, tar sands burn as greenwash bubbles.” The full script can be seen below.

“Round about the globe we go! Into the ocean, oil we throw; tar that lurks beneath the ground uproots and kills without a sound. The planet heats, nothing survives – while back in London our brand thrives!”. Photo by Hugh Warwick

The theatrical activists then led a chanting crowd around Tate Britain, performing further anti-oil playlets – including a speech about Tate’s branding of a display of art by civil rights campaigner and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst as a “BP Spotlight” – before symbolically “ejecting” the BP executives from the building in front of hundreds of onlookers. Security guards watched the protest but did not interfere, and the real-life Tate Director Nicholas Serota was spotted watching the final performance.

Mr Macbeth starts to regret his decision: “Nature is dead, and guilty dreams abuse my fitful sleep…”. Photo by Hugh Warwick.

The protest follows last month’s dramatic resignation of two Tate members at the gallery’s formal AGM. The members resigned in disgust at the Tate’s ongoing relationship with BP and lack of commitment to addressing its members’ concerns on this issue, and were supported by a protest by members of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company on the steps of the building outside.

These actions were taken because Tate continues to increase the profile of its sponsorship relationship with BP, and to defend the company’s actions, despite the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster, the company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands oil in Canada, its enormous contribution towards climate change, and its partnership with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft in order to exploit the hazardous and vulnerable Arctic.

“Out, damned logo!”. Photo by Hugh Warwick

The campaign against oil sponsorship of the arts is gathering momentum. Today’s events follow an equally dramatic anti-BP protest by the art activists Liberate Tate inside the gallery in November, two recent musical protests against Shell’s sponsorship of the Southbank Centre by a group called Shell Out Sounds, and a letter to the Southbank signed by 21 artists who have performed there, calling for an end to oil company funding. The Reclaim Shakespeare Company, Liberate Tate, Shell Out Sounds and other anti-oil sponsorship groups are part of a new coalition called Art Not Oil to coordinate their activities, which has its own website.

Nerissa Tilouche, who performed at the Tate today, said: “BP is gambling with our planet. It is officially the world’s biggest corporate criminal, following the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Its activities in the tar sands, the Arctic, and elsewhere are locking us into a future of disastrous runaway climate change. The Tate should sever all ties with BP, because this sponsorship deal is giving the company a veneer of respectability that it does not deserve.”

James Atherton, another performer, said: “BP provides less than 1% of the Tate’s annual income*, but gets a huge amount of branding and publicity in return. The visitor map booklet for the newly rehung Tate Britain contains the word ‘BP’ 19 times in its 24 pages, and the main permanent exhibition is now the ‘BP Walk Through British Art’. This upgraded BP branding is a slap in the face to the many Tate visitors, members and contributing artists who have been raising serious concerns about this funding relationship for years. Tate should end this deal, and put in place an ethical sponsorship policy to ensure that similarly reckless sponsors are kept out of its galleries in the future. The Tate would then be free to join us in calling for decent public funding for the arts that doesn’t allow unscrupulous companies like BP to buy themselves such a dangerous level of public credibility.”

“We all know our deadly deeds spread grief and chaos ‘cross lands and seas, but this great gallery WILL obey when our coffers do his salary pay…”. Photo by Hugh Warwick

The Reclaim Shakespeare Company originally came together in 2012 to oppose BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). They performed a total of nine “guerilla Shakespeare” interventions by invading RSC stages just before BP-sponsored plays, and organising flashmobs at the British Museum’s ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’ exhibition, which was also sponsored by the oil company. Their performances attracted support and applause from audiences, staff and even RSC performers, and national media coverage.

The protests at the RSC appear to have been partially successful. Following these interventions, BP sponsorship of the RSC has been significantly downgraded. No further plays have been branded with the BP logo although the oil company does still sponsor a discount youth ticket scheme. As a result, the Reclaim Shakespeare Company are now broadening their activities to include other oil-sponsored institutions (such as the Tate).

* Tate have refused to reveal exactly how much money they receive from BP each year. However, BP have stated publicly that they gave £10 million, over 5 years, to four London institutions: Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Royal Opera House. Even if half of this money was given to Tate, that would only amount to £1 million per year. Tate’s annual income for 2013 was £123 million (see page 12 of their most recent financial statement, here: http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/30359 ), so BP’s contribution represents less than 1% of the gallery’s annual income.

The script:


Dramatis Personae
Tour Guide
First BP Executive
Second BP Executive
Third BP Executive
Mr Macbeth, the Tate Director
Lady Macbeth, a painting in the Tate’s collection
Chorus of Exhibition Viewers

Scene: The “1840” room in the BP Walk Through British Art

Lady Macbeth poses in front of her painting, holding her crown above her head. The rest of the cast mingle with the ordinary gallery-goers.

The tour guide steps up to the painting and catches the attention of the mixed crowd of members of the public and secret performers:

Tour Guide
Hello! Hello, there’s now going to be a short talk about this painting, please do gather round if you’re interested. Hi, yes, gather on round, can you hear me at the back? Great.

This is a painting of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth. Ellen Terry, of course, was one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actresses of the Victorian period, and this was one of her most famous roles – thanks, in part, to this painting. Oh, you’ll notice we’ve got our own Lady Macbeth here today, we’ll be hearing from her shortly! In December 1888 the artist, John Singer Sargent, went to the opening night of this production of Macbeth at the Lyceum theatre, just up the river from here. Almost immediately afterwards, he began work on this painting.

Note the spectacular dress. This was designed especially for Ellen Terry in this role, and was made from fine green wool embroidered with gold and – amazingly – with 1,000 green iridescent beetle wings stitched into the fabric, to give it a shimmering look. This dress is also very appropriate to this gallery today, because it’s also pretty much the same colour as the logo of BP. BP, of course, are one of Tate’s most high profile sponsors. In any given year, BP provide up to 1% of Tate’s total income, which is why their branding features so prominently around this gallery. In fact [gets official Tate map booklet out of pocket], you’ll find the word ‘BP’ appears 19 times in this 24-page booklet.

A faint chanting begins from the Chorus, scattered through the audience

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

Tour Guide [raising his voice slightly]
Some of you might be wondering how such a deal could come about between an art gallery and an oil company.

Chorus [getting gradually louder]
Double, double: oil is trouble,
Tar sands burn, as greenwash bubbles

The Tour Guide looks puzzled, and walks back into the crowd as the chanting gets louder still

Chorus [loudly]
Double, double: oil is trouble,
Tar sands burn, as greenwash bubbles

Three BP Executives are circling the room. They are yelling into their phones, joining 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: 2013.

First BP Executive
Where the place?

Second BP Executive
The Tate Gallery!

[Executives meet in front of Lady Macbeth’s painting.]

Third BP Executive
Here to meet with Mr Macbeth,
Tate Director, art collector!

First BP Executive
Now’s the time to play our part,
To show the glory of our art
To raise such artificial sprites
As endless funding, false delights,

Second BP Executive
And by the strength of our illusion
We’ll draw him on in his confusion
He shall spurn morals and with us sing
That BP’s money hath no strings

Third BP Executive
When we all know our deadly deeds
Spread grief and chaos ‘cross lands and seas
But this great gallery will obey
When our coffers will his salary pay!

All BP Executives
All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king of galleries! [The Executives surround Macbeth with laddish pats on the back, shouts of ‘hail, hail’ and shaking of hands.]

Let not visitors see my black and deep desires.
This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill!
If ill, why doth it promise me success?

Lady Macbeth
[Awaking from her pose]
Yet do I fear thy nature…
It is too full ‘o’th’ milk of human kindness
To make the most lucrative deal.
This oily business must be done.
You must look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under’t.

As she speaks these words, Lady Macbeth takes a flower from her breast – a flower the shape and colour of the BP logo – and pins it to Macbeth

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly.

Macbeth makes his choice, and shakes BP’s hands. Lady Macbeth follows suit.

The Executives reveal a contract which they shove upon Macbeth, urging him to sign.

Second BP Executive takes off Lady Macbeth’s gloves to reveal ‘oil-stained’ gloves underneath while First BP Executive speaks…

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.
The planet heats, nothing survives
[All BP Executives together] While back in London our brand thrives

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

Macbeth [looking through the exhibition guide]
Is this a logo which I see before me?
Come, let me profit from thee. Or art thou but
A prison of the mind, a false creation,
Reigning o’er the heat-oppressed world?
Nature is dead, and guilty dreams abuse
My fitful sleep.

Lady Macbeth
Out, damned logo! out, I say! The waters are murky!
What need we fear who knows it, when none can call BP
to account? Yet who would have thought philanthropy
to have so much corruption in it?
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this oil
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas intoxicate,
Making the green one black.
What, will these hands ne’er be clean?
No more o’ that, BP, no more: you mar all with this drilling.
Here’s the smell of destruction still. All the
oil wells of Arabia will not sweeten this gallery. O, O, O!

Lady Macbeth runs screaming out of the gallery

Accursed be BP that made me so,
For they hath cow’d my better part of man!
Nay, be these corporate fiends no more believed,
That liest to us in a double sense;
They keep the word of promise to our ear,
But break it with their deeds. I’ll not partner with thee!
Out, damned logo!

The Chorus join in with a chant of “Out, damned logo!” The Macbeths and chorus gradually chase the BP Executives from the gallery, parading through the whole building.

7 thoughts on “‘Is this a logo I see before me?’ – we take over Tate Britain

  1. Bravo, Reclaim Shakespeare Company! Another fine performance, with an intelligent & witty script that Will Shakespeare himself would have applauded. Encore!!!


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