We invade the stage with same-sex ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at BP-sponsored concert

Cadogan Hall concert targeted due to oil sponsor and conductor’s Putin links
Unsanctioned ‘balcony scene’ evades security and entertains audience
Concert-goers include senior officials from BP, and UK and Russian governments

Three performers from theatrical campaign group BP or not BP? took to the stage – and a balcony – at Cadogan Hall this evening to challenge BP’s sponsorship, just before Russia’s Mariinsky Orchestra was due to begin a performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Invitees included VIPs from BP, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Russian Embassy, who gathered for a BP-hosted reception beforehand.

Ramira and Juliet - three performers invade the stage and the balcony. Photo by Hugh Warwick. Small version.
Three performers invade the stage and the balcony; the Prologue addresses the crowd. Photo by Hugh Warwick.

The actorvists, all of whom are LGBT, performed their own four-minute version of the Shakespeare play, titled ‘Ramira and Juliet’, in which the lovers are gay musicians who fall out over Ramira accepting sponsorship from BP. Adapting many famous passages from the play, they ultimately sort out their differences, drop the oily sponsor, and marry – which would be illegal in Russia under its draconian anti-gay laws. The full script can be found below.

Concert-goers laughed and applauded as the performers recreated the famous balcony scene with an anti-BP, pro-LGBT rights twist, culminating in the actorvists ripping the BP logo from their programmes. A lone heckler was shushed by the audience, and boos could be heard whenever BP’s name was mentioned. Security allowed the performance to conclude and the disobedient thespians left the building of their own accord.

Ramira and Juliet - Juliet pleads with Ramira to break up with BP. Photo by Hugh Warwick. Cropped version.
Juliet pleads with Ramira to break up with BP. Photo by Hugh Warwick.

BP is a major operator in Russia, holding a 19.75% stake in massive state oil company Rosneft, making it the largest shareholder after the Russian government. Rosneft is probably Russia’s worst polluter, responsible for multiple spills and leaks, including once causing oil to flow out of domestic taps. BP has been actively sponsoring and promoting Russian culture and achievements in the UK, and has previously lobbied against sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine, which have put plans to drill in the Arctic with Rosneft on ice.

BP recently sponsored the Science Museum’s Cosmonauts exhibition, which celebrated Russian space exploration and saw the museum’s director receive the Pushkin medal from Vladimir Putin. The BP-sponsored Mariinsky Orchestra’s world-famous conductor, Valery Gergiev, is a vocal supporter of Putin and has been targeted by gay rights protests in the past. The performance also comes two days before the anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico which has cost the company more than $50 billion and the impacts of which are still affecting residents and ecosystems today.

Ramira and Juliet - Ramira realises the ethical consequences of being funded by BP. Photo by Hugh Warwick. Cropped version.
Ramira realises the ethical consequences of being funded by BP. Photo by Hugh Warwick.

This is the latest in a proliferation of creative protests against BP sponsorship which are starting to have an effect. In the last few weeks both Tate and the Edinburgh International Festival have parted company with BP after decades-long relationships. Early this month 100 famous and well-respected cultural, scientific and political figures called on the British Museum’s new director to end its deal with the oil giant, on the same day as BP or not BP? occupied the museum with a rebel exhibition: ‘A History of BP in 10 Objects’. Meanwhile, BP is under pressure on other fronts, having just faced one of the UK’s biggest ever shareholder revolts on Thursday at its AGM, when 60% voted against its £14m pay package for CEO Bob Dudley. BP is also a sponsor of the Royal Opera House, an arts organisation that has been targeted by composers and musicians over its sponsorship deal with BP.

Sarah Ginsberg, one of the performers, said:

‘LGBT activists have a rich history of creative protest around civil rights, labour rights and climate change. We took to the stage tonight to confront BP staff and the British and Russian governments with urgent questions about the ethics of continued fossil fuel extraction, the need to end oil sponsorship and the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights.’

Dudley Cooper, who delivered the performance’s prologue and epilogue, said:

‘In just the last few weeks we’ve seen both the Tate and Edinburgh International Festival split with BP. The applause we got tonight suggests that the final curtain is near for BP, and it’s high time they left the stage.’

THE SCRIPT: Ramira and Juliet

[Ramira and Juliet are two musicians, hoping to marry now that Ramira has escaped the homophobic laws in her native Russia. However, Ramira is sponsored by BP and Juliet isn’t happy about it]

Britain and Russia!:
Two nations, both alike in oily amoury,
In fair London where we lay our scene,
Through ancient fossil fuels they form close bonds,
While the Earth’s black blood makes their hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two states,
Two lovers and musicians step, Ramira and Juliet.
One sponsored by oil, the other clean,
This pair of tar-cross’d lovers join the scene…

Juliet: [on balcony]
O Ramira, Ramira! Wherefore art thou Ramira?
Deny thy sponsor and refuse thy shame.
How can I be so bound in love to she
Who’s tied to BP, a rogue by any other name?

Ramira: [below]
My love, Juliet, she speaks!
O, speak again, bright angel! Yet…
What storm is this that blows so contrary?
[To Juliet, trying to woo her] Fair Juliet, when we are wed —

Juliet: [Not having any of it]
I have no joy in your contract with BP:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden.
These dark riches make us hunger more,
And our countries forge most unjust wars
Against our planet, sick and pale with grief
Destroying it for wealth that lies beneath

O, but wilt thou leave me so un-funded?
Parting with oil money is such sour sorrow.

O, that complicity should dwell in such
a gorgeous palace! Blister’d be thy greed.
There’s no trust, no faith, no honesty in oil.
A logo by (almost) any other name would smell more sweet.
If we’re to wed, you must deny BP and refuse its spoils.

O Juliet, at last ‘tis clear to me,
Oil’s violent delights have violent ends
You hate BP like climate change’s blight
I never saw true duty til this night
To preserve our love, I’ll do what’s right
I bite my thumb at you, BP!
Fair Juliet, I take thee at thy word:
Call me but wife, and I’ll be new baptised;
Out, out, now damnèd logo so despised!

Juliet: [Delighted and relieved]
Ay me, a maiden blush bepaint my breast!
My love for thee is grown to such excess
So now that we are safe from Putin’s wrath
On more tolerant ground, let us marry forthwith!

A looming peace this evening with it brings,
As BP’s greed is banished by true love.
And so I say to Rosneft and BP:
A plague on both your houses!
For never was a story of morality clearer,
Than this of Juliet and her Ramira.

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