Audience members at the Roundhouse and Riverside Studios have been getting unexpected warm-ups this week as members of the ‘Reclaim Shakespeare Company’ have been staging protests before curtain up. The group are protesting against BP's sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company's What Country Friends is This? trilogy and the World Shakespeare Festival.

On 27 June 2012 the group protested at the Roundhouse in Camden, five minutes before a BP-sponsored RSC performance of The Comedy of Errors was due to begin. The following day they took to the stage of the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith at a performance of Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad. Both productions are part of the World Shakespeare Festival. The same group protested the issue in Stratford-upon-Avon in April.

During both protests, speeches were performed which challenged the RSC over its decision to accept sponsorship from BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster and the company’s decision to start extracting highly polluting and destructive tar sands oil in Canada.

It comes a week after actor Mark Rylance, who is performing in the Olympic opening ceremony, expressed his concerns about BP’s sponsorship of the London 2012 Games and the Cultural Olympiad (of which the World Shakespeare Festival is part) on Radio 4’s Today Programme.

At the Roundhouse, two activists performed a two-minute sketch inspired by The Comedy of Errors, in which the narrator first meets a "fine and worthy" patron of the arts, and then meets a "noxious, treach’rous, belching, oily rogue" – who turn out to both be the same character, BP. On discovering this, BP is accused of "taking fair nature as his green-tinged guise" while "with daring folly he burns the world".

The performance culminated with a call to action: "Enough! No more! / Now is the summer of our discontent. / Out, damn logo!", with the narrator ripping the BP logo from her theatre programme. The audience were then encouraged to do the same.

In Hammersmith a similar protest took place, with performance poet Pete the Temp delivering a two-minute soliloquy inspired by Romeo and Juliet, in which he called BP “a beast, that fuels the fire of climate change / With black fountains issuing from its veins on pain of torture from its bloody hands". He referenced BP’s involvement in the war in Iraq and addressed the World Shakespeare Festival with the words: “as you take contract you raise their stature, you serve them licence / I ne'er saw true hypocrisy till this night / O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? / Deny thy sponsor and refuse thy logo.” There was loud applause from the audience, and the performer then invited them to rip the BP logo from their theatre programmes.

BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival and the What Country Friends is This? trilogy of plays by the RSC is part of a massive sponsorship deal for the Olympics, which also includes being Oil & Gas Partner and Sustainability Partner to the Games themselves.

BP's sponsorship has already triggered a wave of criticism, including a hijacking of the Olympics website that persuaded some media outlets that BP had been dropped as Sustainability Partner; the launch of the 'Greenwash Gold' awards for worst Olympics sponsor; and calls for an early day motion in Parliament on the process by which Olympic sponsors are selected. 

- Rosie Bannister