As part of the build-up to the Olympics, Britain is hosting the World Shakespeare Festival, that kicked off on Monday which would have been the Bard’s 448th birthday.

The Festival is being billed as the biggest ever festival to celebrate his work: production companies from around the world will perform a total of 70 plays, starting with a Maori version of Troilus and Cressida. Other countries represented include South Sudan, South Africa, Belarus and Afghanistan. Nearly 180,000 tickets have already been sold.

Using Shakespeare to bring a cultural dimension to Britain’s sporting extravaganza has been applauded by the critics as widening the appeal of the Games.

However, once again Big Oil has sullied the event through sponsorship. BP, which is also sponsoring the Olympics, is a major sponsor.

In response, therefore, activists are determined that BP’s sponsorship of such a landmark cultural event does not go unchallenged and so they have formed the “Reclaim Shakespeare Company.”

On Monday, just before the start of the Tempest, a group of activists took unexpectedly to the stage in Stratford-upon-Avon. The actors performed a short protest drawing on The Tempest and other Shakespearean works, to challenge the Royal Shakespeare Company over its decision to accept sponsorship from BP.

They spoke for roughly two minutes about BP’s attempts to “distract attention” away from their environmental record – including the Deepwater Horizon disaster – through cultural sponsorship.

The lead protester soliloquised: “What country, friends, is this? Where the words of our most prized poet / Can be bought to beautify a patron / So unnatural as British Petroleum? / They, who have incensed the seas and shores / From a dark deepwater horizon.”

The performance concluded with the words “Let us break their staff that would bewitch us! / Out damned logo!”. On saying this, the performer ripped the BP logo from his theatre programme.

The audience were then invited to follow the actors’ lead by tearing the BP logo from their theatre programme when they exited the theatre.

“Several followed our lead,” said Richard Howlett one of the protesters from the Reclaim Shakespeare Company “and lots of people were clapping and cheering at the end”.

The stunt marked the public launch of the Reclaim Shakespeare Company’s website and manifesto, entitled “BP or not BP?”

It coincided with the publication of a letter in the Guardian newspaper from a group of theatre and arts professionals, who argued that “what should be an unabashed celebration of Shakespeare’s continued relevance to our world has been sullied by the fact that the festival is sponsored by BP.”

The letter continued: “While the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill continues to devastate ecosystems and communities, and the highly polluting extraction of tar sands oil brings us rapidly closer to the point of no return from climate change, we feel that BP has no place in arts sponsorship.”

In response, the Royal Shakespeare Company defended its decision to take BP’s money, saying the oil giant “has been a great supporter of the arts for many years and already works with some of the UK’s leading cultural organisations.”

However,  Richard Howlett responded: “The RSC have chosen to put BP’s money in their purse. Yet he’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf. BP is doing everything in its power to let not the public see its deep and dark desires – fossil fuel expansion and ecological devastation. BP is the harlot’s cheek, beautied with sponsoring art. It is the greenwash monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on, and the RSC have made themselves complicit in its crimes.”

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