RSC profits as 'Hamlet' becomes a soap tragedy

'FOR THE apparel oft proclaims the man,' Polonius advises his son in Hamlet, urging him to take care how he dresses.

In next week's production by the Royal Shakespeare Company he might be tempted to give Laertes a packet of Persil to ensure he gets the message.

Hamlet, starring Kenneth Branagh, and directed by Adrian Noble, is being given pounds 50,000 in sponsorship by Persil, Comfort and the margarine Flora, all subsidiaries of Unilever.

As part of the deal, Unilever wants publicity given to the products in the RSC foyers and on all literature relating to the Flora/Persil Hamlet.

The same sponsors are helping to fund the production of The Tempest at the RSC despite the dangers of product confusion between Persil and one of the characters, awkwardly named Ariel.

Publicity in programmes and on posters has been a part of arts sponsorship agreements for some years.

But actually devoting foyer space to the products in a theatre is highly unusual.

However, an RSC spokeswoman said yesterday: 'We are at present working out with Unilever whether they want to do a front of house display of promoting their products. There will be two 60 by 40-inch sites to promote Flora and Persil.'

Colin Tweedie, director of the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, said: 'No one is giving money to any arts organisation without a commercial return at the present time.

'Unilever has detected a link between dishwasher sales and people who attend the opera and theatre. It is sponsoring the event as a way of chasing upmarket, category ABC spenders.

'It's not as if when Ophelia drowns someone will jump on stage with a packet of Comfort.'

Assuaging fears that Hamlet would see his late father's funeral bakemeats surrounded by margarine, Mr Tweedie added: 'There won't be product placement on stage but you will get clear branding in the foyer and on literature.'

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