Entertainment

Monday 14 October 2019

School strikers threaten Royal Shakespeare Company boycott over BP links

Environmentalist students have called for a boycott unless sponsorship is dropped.

Students have criticised the record of BP (Nick Ansell/PA)
Students have criticised the record of BP (Nick Ansell/PA)

By Craig Simpson, PA

School strikers have threatened to boycott the Royal Shakespeare Company over “sickening” links to oil giant BP.

The theatre company is sponsored by BP, an arrangement which has drawn criticism from environmentalists including Oscar-winner Sir Mark Rylance.

Young students have penned a letter claiming that BP is “destroying our futures by wrecking the climate”, and urged the cultural institution to break ties with the fossil fuel industry.

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Sir Mark Rylance (Ian West/PA)

The missive criticises BP for its environmental impact, lobbying and human rights record.

Students have criticised the association of William Shakespeare with the policies of BP, which they believe is destroying the planet and ruining the reputation of the RSC.

Strikers from the birthplace of the Bard, Stratford-upon-Avon, have signed the letter calling for an end to the current sponsorship, which provides young people with subsidised £5 tickets.

The letter states: “If we, as young people, wish to see an affordable play at your theatre we have to help to promote a company that is actively destroying our futures by wrecking the climate.

“BP is jeopardising the futures of these young people they apparently care so much about, by continuing to extract huge quantities of oil and gas, and actively lobbying against the climate change policies that we school strikers are pushing so hard for.

“Furthermore, BP’s human rights record is an embarrassment. Their close relationship with repressive governments and regimes such as Egypt, Mexico and Russia has led to horrendous human rights violations.

“It is sickening that the works of Shakespeare are being associated with these events.”

The letter concludes: “BP’s influence is nothing but a stain on the RSC.”

More than 60,000 people signed a recent petition for cultural institutions – the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Opera House – to end their financial ties to the multinational, and climate activists To BP Or Not BP have campaigned against fossil fuel funding going into the arts.

Students have now called for a boycott unless what they believe is environmental destruction is divorced from the world of theatre, and have asked to meet with RSC bosses.

We recognise the importance for a continuing, robust and engaged debate, we acknowledge the climate emergency and recognise the strength of feeling, especially amongst our young people Catherine Mallyon and Gregory Doran, RSC

Chloe Hawryluk, 16, is a key organiser of the Stratford-upon-Avon school strikes.

A signatory of the letter, she said: “As a pupil of the school that Shakespeare attended himself, I cannot begin to explain my displeasure in learning about BP’s recent sponsorship of the RSC’s 16-25 tickets.

“If I want to attend the theatre, I want to attend the theatre without supporting a company that is continuing to extract fossil fuels.

“I don’t want to support a company that is one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, I don’t want to support a company that is only doing this to distract us from the fact that they are ruining our planet.”

Sir Mark, star of Wolf Hall and Bridge Of Spies, quit the RSC in June this year, citing his objections to the RSC’s receipt of funding from BP.

He has accused the oil company of obscuring its environmental impact by supporting arts organisations.

Catherine Mallyon, RSC executive director, and Gregory Doran, RSC artistic director, said: “We welcome the conversation around this issue and will respond once we receive the letter.

“We recognise the importance for a continuing, robust and engaged debate, we acknowledge the climate emergency and recognise the strength of feeling, especially amongst our young people.

“Our work with over 500,000 students annually means their feedback and opinions are very important to us.”

BP has been contacted for comment.

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