And, what is more, the RSC seemed not only helpless to do anything about it -- such as throw the fellows off the stage -- but were positively welcoming of the intrusion, as if salving their own guilty consciences about where the money comes from.
As the house lights dimmed for Twelfth Night, two men quietly appeared in the gloaming, rising from their seats in the front stalls, and one of them wasn't Orsino. In a baffled silence, and to one or two shouts of "Shame!" (presumably from a BP executive or RSC board member), the men recited about twenty lines of unstructured verse about the BP oil drilling disaster, spillage and the danger to the environment.
"When I hear that BP story, green and yellow melancholy...deep water despair." Everyone was so taken aback, they slipped away before a black clad woman with a clipboard and an ear-phone took the stage, and she wasn't Viola.
She was a stage manager who informed us that this wasn't part of the show but that the company believed in everyone having their say. Then Viola emerged like a mermaid, dripping wet, from beneath the stage and the play proper started. Phew, what a relief. That was quite enough drama for one evening, thank you very much; and I just hope all that water under the stage isn't polluted.
In yesterday's Stratford Herald, RSC artistic director Michael Boyd accepted the protest as part and parcel of the RSC's reputation as a radical company and a place for peacefully expressed and contrasting views, which was a clever way of dealing with a tricky situation, I suppose.
He also added that the contribution of BP in sponsoring the World Shakespeare Festival as founding presenting partner had been essential to important elements of the festival. "We consider potential partners very carefully and have taken this decision with the backing of the board."
Boyd was maintaining a relaxed approach to the affair during the interval of yesterday's matinee of The Tempest, the third of the Shipwreck Trilogy of plays following The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night.
He had no idea whether to expect any more disruptions, but is obviously following a policy of drawing the sting by allowing the protest. It's hard to see what else he could do, beyond, as he says, giving them notes and some rehearsal time or perhaps even another venue, adding cheekily, with reference to the Arts Council grant, "We take money from the government; how more disreputable can you be?"
Last weekend's Birthday Celebrations in the town went off without a hitch. A bust of Stanley Wells, the great Shakespearean scholar, was unveiled in the Shakespeare Birthday Trust. And Janet Suzman, receiving an award at the birthday luncheon -- held this year in the King Edward VI School hall, not in a marquee on the banks of the river, as is usual -- opened both barrels on the anti-Stratfordians.
People who did not believe that Shakespeare actually wrote his own plays were away with the leprechauns, she said. Take that, Derek Jacobi, and you sir, Mark Rylance: "There have been a bunch of very irritating people who've got right up my nose."
The rain has been incessant in Stratford, suitably enough for the Shipwreck Trilogy, of which The Tempest is easily the best production. Jonathan Slinger is a very funny bare-bottomed Malvolio and brings a wonderful sense of awe and mystery to his fractious Prospero, for whom a similarly suited Ariel is both doppelganger and alter ego.
Well, Feste in Twelfth Night does sing that the rain it raineth every day...and no doubt our protesting friends would say that's all BP's fault, too, With a hey and a ho and a hey nonny-no.
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