Grenfell Inquiry theatre production will ‘call failings to account’

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry will be dramatised in a new theatre production starting in October, which will highlight the failings from the tragedy to a non-technical audience, the director told CM.

The not-for-profit dramatisation, called Value Engineering – Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry, has been created by theatre director Nicholas Kent and former Guardian security editor Richard Norton-Taylor. It aims to offer a succinct explanation of how 72 people died in a fire at the building on 14 June 2017.

Kent and Norton-Taylor have previously worked together on verbatim theatre productions based on inquiries into Bloody Sunday, the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the death of Baha Mousa.

Based on an edited version of more than three years of testimony, Kent told CM that he hoped the production would give a clear overview of the second phase of the Inquiry and look at what went wrong with the refurbishment and what can be learned for the future.

‘People considering going into construction can learn something from this production and empathise with the terrible situation that some of the residents find themselves in and be determined to get more social justice from it.’

Theatre director Nicholas Kent

It focuses on testimony from the architects, main contractor Rydon, the cladding subcontractors, building control, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) under questioning from counsel to the Inquiry.

“It has been about trying to make it understandable and not to make it too technical, to give an overview of what went on, which is very complex,” Kent said. “The pith of what we wanted to do was looking at the failure of Building Regulations and the failure of those people who should have done their jobs better.

“It will obviously affect people who went through the devastating fire and whose lives were forever affected. We have tried to be as sensitive as possible – we have anonymised particular incidents and changed floor numbers, sexes and names, so that we are protecting people in those particular cases.”

Kent added that he appreciated the dramatisation would also be difficult for those who had been involved in the refurbishment.

He said: “Raking over what they did will not be easy for them either but on the other hand, people have to be called to account for their failings. I think it is something that theatre can do rather well. We are giving people more information. We are not making anything up, and we are trying to be as unbiased as possible.”

‘Disappointing’ lack of funding from construction

Alongside the production, there will be an outreach programme called Valued, which will be available to local schools and the community and which aims to provide schools with an insight into contemporary issues, with a focus on social justice and human rights.

The Mousetrap Foundation will also fund subsidised tickets for children to watch the production. A programme book with supporting material written by Norton-Taylor will be published by Bloomsbury.

Rehearsals for the production start on 20 September for the company of 13 actors. The show is running on stage at The Tabernacle theatre in London’s Notting Hill from 13 October until 13 November and the Birmingham Rep from 16 until 20 November 2021.

The production has been funded by charities as well as private companies. Kent said: “Law firms have contributed quite a considerable amount of money in various different ways to the area. I have written to 15 leading architecture practices and not a single one has been willing to support it. I have also written to people in the construction industry and got nowhere either, which is very disappointing.

“People who might be considering going into the construction industry can learn something from this production and empathise with the terrible situation that some of the residents find themselves in and be determined to get more social justice from it.”

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