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Bad Money in Good Places: Arms & Pharma Money in London Theatre.


BP and Shell are no longer funding theatre. So what about the drugs and the arms money?


The Royal Shakespeare Company’s decision to drop BP funding in the last month was an amazing achievement by Culture Unstained and their supporters. Their campaign was helped along by public opinion, the youth climate strike and Mark Rylance. Soon after, choosing to jump rather than be pushed, the NT said they’d be dropping Shell's funding too. All hail responsible public institutions.


These theatres are clearly keen to do right, so I thought I’d bring their attention to some other partners they’ve picked up over the years.


Goldman Sachs & The National Theatre


"The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” [Rolling Stone]. 


Goldman Sachs fund the Arms Trade. They have stock in the American weapons giant Lockheed Martin, they lobby regularly to lift arms embargoes on some of world’s worst leaders (CAAT), and they bankrolled the manufacture of cluster bombs (Guardian). Cluster munitions are meant to be banned under international law, though they’re somehow still being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen to kill kids. Go figure.


Their other sins include setting off the subprime mortgage crisis, bonuses that would make your eyes water, stock price manipulation, gender bias and much, much more. A fun fact: their list of official controversies on Wikipedia runs to nineteen separate sections with seven sub sections. 


Goldman Sachs are Platinum Members at the National Theatre. The previous “Chief Operating Officer for Europe” of Goldman Sachs is a trustee of The Young Vic. The previous head of ‘European Mergers and Acquisitions’ became a trustee of Donmar Warehouse in 2018.


Price Waterhouse Cooper & The Old Vic


PwC are auditors to the world. They ballsed up the Oscars that time, and their list of Wikipedia controversies reaches twenty nine separate sections, and it includes everything from Brazilian Petrobras to Northern Rock. Take that Goldman.


They also work for Raytheon, an American missile defence company who sell weapons to Saudi Arabia. In fact PwC recently took a $50 million hit in a legal settlement on behalf of Raytheon, which tells you what kind of business they’re doing. Raytheon weapons are currently being used in the Yemen to kill Houthi civilians and children. The resulting violence has launched a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands. It is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world according to the UN. 


PwC are Previews Partner at The Old Vic. They pay for those £10 tickets.


Barclays & The Donmar Warehouse


Barclays hold shares in a company called Elbit Systems, (alot of shares, 50,000 in 2014) an arms company which creates drones for use by the Israeli military. Elbit also have contracts with Saudi Arabia and Turkey - both of whom are currently involved in ethnic cleansing of Houthis and Kurds respectively. In a less traceable but more dangerous example of the same thing, Barclays also offer a no-strings attached stockholder service, allowing you to invest your stocks wherever you like, circumventing Barclays' ethical guidelines. In 2014 they had invested nearly 5% of BAE Systems shares for them. BAE systems have made £42 billion since 1985 selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Recently a BAE guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin killed forty school children.


Barclays is principal sponsor of The Donmar Warehouse. Now, onto the drug companies...


The Sackler Trust


The Sackler family are the people behind Purdue Pharma. This company makes Oxycontin, an opioid drug that is widely prescribed in the US. (Opioids are a kind of prescribed pain relief similar to morphine). As you may know there’s currently an addiction epidemic going on in the poorer parts of the US because doctors have been financially incentivised to prescribe the drug. It has also recently been alleged that Purdue, and the Sacklers in particular, knew of the addictive nature of Oxycontin as it was released. The family and the company are currently being sued by the state of Massachusetts in a civil action law suit. 


Following international pressure The Sackler Trust have been dropped as funders by The National Portrait Gallery &  The RA. Protests have occurred at The New York Met, The New York Gugenheim, The Harvard Arts Museum in Mass. and the Freer-Sackler gallery in Washington. 


However the Sackler Trust remains a public supporter of the Donmar Warehouse, and The Almeida Theatre



GlaxoSmithKline were up to the same sort of thing. In 2012 they paid out the biggest settlement in healthcare history, at $3 billion, because they’d been paying U.S. doctors to prescribe potentially dangerous anti-depressants to people under 18. Keen not to let the fraudulent ball drop, GSK are being investigated today by the Serious Fraud Office for bribery allegations in China. Same shit, different continent.


GlaxoSmithKline are platinum members of The National Theatre


I wrote this article in about three hours. It is not hard to find out who these people are. I haven’t contacted any theatres, I’ve just been reading names off their websites. So the idea that theatres don’t know what they're doing, is ludicrous. 


I couldn’t find the Royal Court corporate supporters on their website. The funding for The Jerwood Foundation is just as hard to locate. However I think it would be naive to presume they are better than the others.




I want theatres to be well funded so they can give me jobs and pay me a decent SDUK approved wage. I’m not doing myself any favours here - I’ve worked at RSC on BP’s money, at the Young Vic on Sackler money and I would have  worked at any of the others if I’d had the chance. After all,  I want large budgets that mean actors can be paid properly and designers can fulfil their ambition and, like it or not, the government isn’t going to give us all that money any time soon.


However we recently weighed up RSC production values next to the future of the planet, and found the decision pretty easy. The money was bad, and that was that. 


So when we put the plight of theatrical creatives next to the plight of Yemeni children, we can’t honestly say that ‘a really good Pinter’ is worth it. However good that Ibsen adaptation might be, it’s not going to solve the opioid crisis. If we are to judge the RSC (rightly) then surely we should be consistent.


Nice things, made with bad money, are bad things.

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