On 20 April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men, injuring 17…and that was just the beginning of the nightmare. The resultant spill destroyed marine life and wildlife habitats, and devastated the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. By July 9, 2011, roughly 491 miles (790 kilometres) of coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida remained heavily contaminated by oil, in spite of a massive clean-up operation. The people responsible for this unprecedented disaster work for BP, and the company had to claim responsibility. In June 2010, BP set up a $20 billion fund to compensate victims – it has a million claims outstanding, with more arriving each week.
We’re Gonna Make You Whole bases its title on a promise that BP made to the victims, and is heavily ironic given the effects of the spill on a handful of the inhabitants of Louisiana portrayed here. A married couple ( Lennard Sillevis and Jordan King) squabble over how to receive compensation, as she coughs and retches and lives in fear of losing her unborn baby (as other women in the area have) and he, one of the men on the rig on the fateful night, suffers shock, guilt and fear of the future. Elsewhere, an actress (Yasmine Van Wilt) has lost her job on a TV show because of the weeping sores on her body, a fisherwoman has lost her business, and a research doctor, attempting to gather evidence of contamination (both played by Kara Peters) is prevented from continuing.
Immortalis Vox Productions say that the play was ‘inspired by more than 100 interviews with BP Deepwater Horizon survivors’. It is staged on two floors of a shop turned gallery in Battersea, and includes an exhibition of amateur portraits that the company invited locals from Grande Isle, Louisiana to paint, which it then, with commendable savage wit, entered into the BP Portrait Competition in the UK. None won, but given the scale of BP operations, I doubt this was a conspiracy.
Mostly, this event is agit-prop. If it wants further action from its audience, the company should supply an informative programme. The play itself is clumsily realised, poorly scripted and confusing. It wasn’t until I talked to one of the company afterwards that I discovered a piece of ‘information’ that could have been used to much greater effect, that is, the sabotage by BP of evidence supporting compensation claims (by allegedly ‘disappearing’ researchers). There are queasy notes struck, including Yasmine Van Wilt’s insistence on wearing very few clothes, which in spite of make-up representing sores, is clearly an excuse to show her beauty and is utterly jarring here. The show blurb promises to ‘press the boundaries of performance, incorporating cabaret, folk, jazz, blues, funk, film, dance, visual art and installation’. Barring a couple of decent folk songs by Sillevis and Van Wilt, this is extremely misleading. What it did do was make me read more about the oil-spill, and realise that this is a disaster which is definitely not over.