Lipman attacks ‘silly’ Rylance for BP protest

Spat: Maureen Lipman (left) in Coronation Street vs Mark Rylance (right) as Richard III.

Are celebrity resignations a waste of time? Oscar-winning Mark Rylance has left the Royal Shakespeare Company over BP funding. Maureen Lipman says he will live to “kick his own britches”.

They are two of the most famous actors in the world. And two of the most outspoken.

Now they are at daggers drawn.

Maureen Lipman has dubbed Sir Mark Rylance “jolly silly” for resigning as associate artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company over its sponsorship ties with BP. She says that he should enter Parliament instead, like the Labour politician and actress Glenda Jackson.

Announcing his resignation in The Guardian, Sir Mark said, “I recently let the RSC know that I feel I must resign, as I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive or unborn. Nor, I believe, would William Shakespeare.”

The Rylance resignation was the latest in a series of protests against BP’s funding of some of Britain’s leading cultural organisations. The oil giant, one of Britain’s biggest companies, has been accused of doing too little to avert catastrophic climate crisis.

It has committed to a broad £7.5 million sponsorship of the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, the National Portrait Gallery and the RSC over five years, subsidising a scheme to provide £5 tickets for 16 to 25-year-olds.

It also sponsors exhibitions, such as the British Museum’s forthcoming Troy, and had a 26-year relationship with Tate that ended in 2017, amid protests from artists who said that the company was attempting to launder its reputation through cultural philanthropy.

Institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery and Tate, have said they will no longer take money from foundations set up by some members of the Sackler family, whose company makes the synthetic opioid Oxycontin.

“If actors want to make a difference, we should do it like Glenda Jackson did,” Lipman writes in a letter to The Times today. “At grassroots level.”

She said that if Jackson could serve as an MP for 23 years, “I feel sure Mark could find himself a nice rotten borough or two to put his mouth where his petroleum coupons are”.

Lipman who, like Rylance and Jackson, is politically left-leaning, said that she had learnt the futility of protest and been “equally silly” after spending “years on so many sofas, bleating about the persecution of my heroine Aung San Suu Kyi”.

“How naive I was to cherish someone who has since proved herself blind and deaf to the persecution of her own countrymen, the Rohingyas,” she wrote. “Resigning from a theatre company because you disagree with its choice of sponsors is jolly silly and, one day, Sir Mark will kick his own britches.”

Much ado?

Lipman is right, many are saying this morning. High-profile resignations are empty gestures. BP will take not a blind bit of notice. Nor will the RSC. The really brave thing to do is to enter politics and fight for change.

What nonsense, retort the friends of Rylance. His action has already shone a huge spotlight on the murky world of corporate marketing. Unethical companies are using cash-strapped arts companies to salve their consciences and burnish their images. All of us, not just Rylance, should call them out.

You Decide

  1. Is it wrong to accept money from BP?
  2. Is resigning as an “associate artist” an empty gesture?


  1. Design a poster protesting about BP’s sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  2. “Celebrity resignations have more to do with protecting your own image than making a real difference.” Discuss and debate!

Some People Say...

“Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

Groucho Marx, US comedian (1890–1977)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
BP reacted to Rylance’s announcement by saying this: “We’ve been supporting the arts in the UK for 50 years and, over that time, around 50 million people have enjoyed BP-supported activities and programmes. On climate, our position is very clear. We recognise the world is on an unsustainable path, more needs to be done to fix that, and the world needs to move to net zero carbon emissions in the decades to come.”
What do we not know?
What Shakespeare would have said. Sir Brian Vickers, an authority on Shakespeare, wrote to The Guardian that Shakespeare “would certainly not wish to be associated with Mark Rylance, who continually endorses the theory that his plays were written by Francis Bacon. This is not to bite, but to amputate, the hand that feeds you.”

Word Watch

Maureen Lipman
She is a leading English actress, known for The Pianist (2002), Educating Rita (1983) and Oklahoma! (1999), plus a series of adverts for British Telecom.
Sir Mark Rylance
Widely regarded as the greatest stage actor of his generation, he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015).
Glenda Jackson
British actress and Labour Party politician who was a member of the House of Commons (1992–2015). As an actress on stage and screen, she was noted for her tense portrayals of complex women.
A medicine used to help relieve severe ongoing pain (due to cancer, for example). It belongs to a class of drugs known as opioid (narcotic) analgesics. It works in the brain to change how your body feels and responds to pain.
Aung San Suu Kyi
A Burmese politician, diplomat, author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Critics have called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel prize to be revoked, citing her silence over the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar.


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