Van Wilt presents a trilogy of slick plays

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The Independent Culture

Last year when the BP drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the resulting oil leak hit headlines around the world for a short while, but for local residents its effects are still being felt.

It's an issue that playwright Yasmine Van Wilt is exploring in We're Gonna Make You Whole, the first in a trilogy of plays and which opened earlier this week at the Acquire Arts Gallery in Battersea, south London.

The play, which focuses on both physical and mental ailments caused by the spill, is based on real stories Van Wilt has collected. "I'm half American and grew up in Florida so my family has been personally affected by it. I've spoken to around 400 people, whether that was conversations I've had in the queue at the post office or on-the-record testimonies. The most common thing people are suffering from is severe respiratory problems."

Woven together, she has dramatised the testimonies through two main characters; Curtis, a guitar-playing oil-worker who suffers post-traumatic stress and his wife Rochelle. Van Wilt also stars as a cousin whose father died in the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion. Several Cajun-style songs feature, although Van Wilt is keen to stress that it's not a musical: "We don't burst into song but it does feature the kind of music you'd expect to hear in the Gulf of Mexico."

The gallery setting is no accident either. Van Wilt, who is currently completing her PhD in playwriting, has been working with film-maker Nancy Boulicault, who asked residents to submit portraits for the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery of loved ones they'd lost (the pictures were rejected) and followed them through the process of completing them. A selection of the pictures form the backdrop to the show.

"I just wanted to do something to make the situation better and get the story out. I thought if I performed the play internationally, people might be interested enough to care about the situation," says Van Wilt.

The second oil-spill play, titled The Gift, is an epic tale that follows one family over 50 years and looks at the petroleum industry in general, while the third, as yet untitled, is destined for radio.

'We're Gonna Make You Whole', Acquire Arts Gallery, London SW8 ( to 31 August