Just Stop Oil, an environmental group that demands the UK government to stop licensing new oil, gas and coal projects, staged a protest at the Sondheim Theatre in London’s West End on Wednesday night. The protesters disrupted a performance of the musical Les Misérables, causing the show to be stopped and the theatre to be evacuated.
Protesters lock themselves to the stage
The incident happened during the song One Day More, which is about hope and resilience in the face of adversity. Four protesters stormed the stage with banners showing the group’s logo and locked themselves to the stage. One of them shouted “just stop oil” to the audience, who booed and told them to “get off”. The cast members tried to continue the performance, but were soon escorted offstage by the technical staff. The safety curtain and the main curtain came down shortly after.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Just Stop Oil wrote: “Valjean steals bread to feed a starving child. How long before we are all forced to steal?” Valjean is the protagonist of Les Misérables, who is pursued by a police inspector for breaking his parole after being imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. The group also said: “The fossil fuel show can’t go on” and shared a video of their protest.
Police arrest five people
The Metropolitan police said they were called to the theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue at about 9pm and arrested five people. The police did not specify the charges or the identities of the arrestees. They said they were dealing with the incident and asked people to avoid the area.
William Village, chief executive of Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, which owns the Sondheim Theatre, confirmed that the show was stopped and the audience were asked to leave the auditorium. He said: “Whilst we recognise the importance of free expression, we must also respect our audience’s right to enjoy the event for which they have paid.” He added that tickets for the performance would be refunded.
Just Stop Oil explains their motive
Just Stop Oil is an activist group that aims to raise awareness about the climate crisis and pressure the government to take action. The group claims that new oil and gas projects will lead to crop failure, starvation and death, especially in the global south. The group also accuses Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of approving hundreds of gas and oil licenses, knowing the full consequences this will have on our climate and our society.
In a video posted on X, one of the protesters, Hanan, explained why they chose to target Les Misérables. She said: “Les Mis is about the June Rebellion, where ordinary people stood up [and] organised themselves against a government that consistently showed no interest in their wellbeing.” She compared their situation to that of the characters in the musical, who fight for freedom and justice in 19th century France.
This is not the first time that Just Stop Oil has staged a demonstration at a public event. The group has previously interrupted tennis matches at Wimbledon, cricket games at Lord’s and football matches at Wembley Stadium.