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Major Theatres end contracts with fossil fuel companies after public pressures

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The National Theatre will end its sponsorship deal with the fossil fuel company Shell, after announced plans to accelerate the theatre’s plans to be carbon neutral.

This follows the Royal Shakespeare Company’s end of its partnership with oil giant BP after harsh criticism and a student protest earlier in the month. Despite BP sponsoring a programme that subsidises tickets to sixteen to twenty five year olds, school students threatened to boycott the company if they did not end their partnership immediately.

Shell previously sponsored an annual youth theatre festival at the National and has been a partner since 1995. When asked about the end of the contract, which will be finalised in June 2020, a spokesperson for Shell said:

“The heightened awareness of climate change that we have seen over recent months is a good thing. As a company, we agree that urgent action is needed. What will really accelerate change is effective policy, investment in technology innovation and deployment, and changing customer behaviour.

“As we move to a lower-carbon future, we are committed to playing our part, by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs – because we all have a role to play.”

Climate campaigners also welcome the changes made with these theatre corporate sponsorships. Greenpeace spokespersons said of the Shell/National:

“This week the world of big oil sponsorships has seen more break-ups than an episode of Love Island. The curtains are coming down fast on this long-running farce where the joke is ultimately on all of us.

“As the impacts of the climate emergency play out all around the world, the reputational damage of being associated with the industry fuelling the problem far outweighs any financial benefit. It’s time for oil giants to get the moral of the story, ditch a business model that’s destroying our world, and shift to renewable energy.”

That is not to say that all of these “break-ups” have been amicable.

BP defended it’s sponsorship of the RSC, and criticised the absolutism of the protestors.

“Over the past eight years our sponsorship has enabled 80,000 young people to see RSC performances at reduced rates… The increasing polarisation of debate, and attempts to exclude companies committed to making real progress, is exactly what is not needed.”

These events also follow the resignation of Sir Mark Rylance as an associate artist of the RSC, saying he would not “wish to be associated with BP and more than I would and arms dealer [or]tobacco salesman.”

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Sian Billington

Arts & Culture Editor | 19-20

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