AUDIENCES at the RST had an unexpected warm-up act when a protest group took to the stage before a performance of Antony and Cleopatra.
The rebel actors from the activist theatre troupe ‘BP or not BP?’ were taking a stand against BP sponsorship of the RSC’s £5 ticket scheme for young people. They say the sponsorship is hypocrisy claiming the company’s business practices were ‘destroying young people’s futures’.
The group had originally attempted to perform at a press night in March but were stopped by RSC staff. This time the performers managed to reach the stage, complete the performance before leaving peacefully.
The first performer pretended to be a spokesperson for the RSC’s sponsor BP who was then interrupted by a furious William Shakespeare.
This is the seventh time ‘BP or not BP?’ has invaded the stage at an RSC performance with a Shakespeare-inspired protest about BP’s backing of the company.
Phoebe Demeger played Shakespeare in the performance and has a personal connection to the RSC as her dad was an actor with the company for six years.
The 24 year-old – who is also a member of the £5 ticket scheme – said: “As a lifelong lover of Shakespeare and a member of the RSC Key scheme for 16 to 25 year olds, I am deeply saddened that young people’s access to great theatre must be tainted by an oil company that directly profits from compromising our collective future.
“For this reason, and the ever-worsening crisis of climate change, we staged this carnivalesque interruption which I hope Shakespeare would be proud of.”
And Darragh Martin, who studied the RSC as part of his PhD, and played the BP spokesperson added: “The RSC inspired me to study Shakespeare.
“I loved that their productions were fiercely political and they cared about making Shakespeare relevant to wide audiences. So it’s particularly crushing for me to see the RSC accept BP’s sponsorship.
“The RSC wants to bring Shakespeare to an international audience, but instead its partner BP is bringing climate chaos to the world, especially the Global South.”
After the performance ‘BP or not BP?’ returned to talk to the audience and hand out flyers during the interval.
The RSC said of the stage invasion: “We support people’s right to protest and our first priority is safety for everyone involved, so where possible we ask for protests to happen off stage outside our buildings.
“The protest was a peaceful one and we allowed it to continue on stage, but we are always mindful of present security concerns.
“BP sponsor our £5 ticket scheme for 16 to 25 year olds, which gives many young people the chance to see our work.
“The scheme is highly valued by our audiences and helps us establish lifetime enthusiasts for Shakespeare and live theatre. Since 2013, we have sold over 62,000 tickets thanks to BP’s support.
“Corporate sponsorship is an important part of our diverse funding mix, alongside ticket sales, public investment, private philanthropy and commercial activity.
“Together they allow us to deliver our artistic programme and reach the widest possible audience.”