Young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC. We cannot ignore that message.
Oil giant BP has been dropped from sponsoring a scheme that allowed students to buy heavily discounted tickets for Shakespeare plays after young climate strikers threatened a boycott.
The move was prompted by a letter from the UK Student Climate Network to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), which stated: “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.”
The RSC needed young people more than it needed BP, whose contribution comprised less than 0.5 per cent of the group’s income, the letter added.
Debate “often difficult”
Announcing the end of the relationship yesterday, the RSC’s artistic director Gregory Doran and executive director Catherine Mallyon, said that it had been listening to a variety of opinions from its board, staff, audiences and artists about its partnership with BP for several months.
The debate had been “often difficult”, and the decision to end the sponsorship had not been taken “lightly or swiftly”, they said.
“Young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC. We cannot ignore that message,” they added.
The partnership with BP began in 2013, and had allowed 80,000 16-25 year olds to buy tickets to RSC shows for £5.
“Disappointed and dismayed”
A spokesman for BP said it was “disappointed and dismayed” by the premature end of the partnership, which was due to run to at least 2022. The oil company shared many of the concerns that contributed to the decision, he said. He added: “Ironically, the increasing polarisation of debate, and attempts to exclude companies committed to making real progress, is exactly what is not needed.
“This global challenge needs everyone – companies, governments and individuals – to work together to achieve a low carbon future,” he added.
However, Morten Thaysen, climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK said that it was hard not to think that “the walls were closing in on BP”.
“Despite the millions they throw at cleaning their reputation through ad campaigns and sponsorship deals, in the public eye their complicity in the climate emergency is catching up to them,” he said.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.