Entertainment & Arts

Mark Rylance 'snubs' RSC in BP sponsorship row

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Media captionThe Oscar-winning actor says he would refuse to perform at the RSC while BP is a sponsor

Mark Rylance says he is unlikely to perform at the Royal Shakespeare Company unless it drops a sponsorship deal with BP.

Asked if he would work at the theatre, Rylance said "no, probably not".

The oil giant is not "behaving ethically given the dangerous increase of climate change", Rylance told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House.

BP says it is "proud to have supported UK arts and culture for over 50 years".

'Mixed economy'

But Rylance accused the oil giant of trying to present itself as a "society-loving organisation, which I don't think they are".

Rylance, who is an associate artist at the RSC, says artists are "being used to whitewash" the energy company.

In July 2016, BP pledged £7.5m over five years to the Royal Opera House, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Shakespeare Company from 2018.

The RSC says sponsorship is an important part of its "diverse funding mix" and helps it "reach the widest possible audience".

"BP is a publicly listed company," says Peter Mather, BP head of UK. "We balance our responsibilities to our employees, shareholders and the communities in which we operate."

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Image caption In April this year, the RSC celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth with a star-studded gala performance.

The chief executive of the Royal Opera House, Alex Beard, said cultural institutions such as his relied on a "mixed economy".

A "three-legged stool" of box office receipts, philanthropic donations and corporate support "allows us to have a sufficient mix of funding that we can take our own decisions about what is right for our art and for our audiences", he said.

Without the support of corporate sponsors, "we would frankly be diminished", he added.

'Selling revolvers'

Arts publicist Mark Borkowski said as funding from government decreases, "we're going to have to move to a more aggressive American model" of relying on private and corporate support.

"Ethically the pure argument of Mark Rylance's point of view is valid," he said.

"I am sure that certain people will possibly boycott a show because they have seen a specific logo. But make no mistake if it is a top ticket or a hot show, people's ethics are left at home."

Rylance says it is for audiences and artists to decide. "If there was someone round here selling revolvers in my neighbourhood or knives to the young people and said I'd like to sponsor your theatrical show I'd say no."

For more on this story listen to Broadcasting House at 09:00 BST on Sunday 23 October, or catch up on iPlayer.

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