Grenfell: System Failure: An essential docu-drama – review

A companion piece to 2021’s Grenfell: Value Engineering (available online at Channel 4) Nicolas Kent & Richard Norton-Taylor’s verbatim play – subtitled Scenes from the Inquiry – is a result of precision-based editing of the testimonies of some of those involved.

With just three desks and a screen it may not look very enticing but once the witnesses are summoned the words – all taken from the inquiry transcripts – turn the gas up from slow simmer to boiling point.

So outrageous are some of the witnesses, so blatant is their indifference and buck passing, arrogance and outright denial that the only response is exasperated rage.

Interrogated by Richard Millet QC (Ron Cook, cool as an ice-cube) the witnesses, including two of those who lost relatives in the conflagration, relate their stories of the fire and its aftermath.

This is absolutely essential docu-drama without any discernible ‘acting’ or unnecessary theatrical dressing aside from a screen that shows emails and witness statements, highlighted to reveal the sheer hypocrisy and mendacity of many of those culpable for one of the worst man-made catastrophes in decades.

Among those cited are David Cameron who as Prime Minister insisted on reducing regulations to save Parliamentary time, the various committees and organisations who allegedly vet building practices and materials (one witness Sarah Colwell, says “with hindsight” over four times), the ghastly Lord Pickles (Howard Crossley) who urges his inquisitors to hurry up because he has meetings to attend and the appalling Adrian Pargeter, director of technical and marketing at Kingspan who made some of the combustible materials that helped incinerate the building.

They are named and shamed by their own words. The most affecting testimony comes from Hisam Choucair (Shahzad Ali) who lost six relatives in the fire.

In spite of his grief and outrage, he maintains a quiet dignity when describing the utter lack of support at the scene.

Nothing is over-dramatised as the cold, clear facts are dramatic enough to create gasps of disbelief in the audience.

This is unadulterated théâtre concrète, fashioned from the words of people who are still alive, still free to walk around.

If it doesn’t urge you to speak out or take action against those who put profits and bureaucratic bother above human lives (72, lest we forget), nothing will.

  • The Tabernacle until March 12; Marylebone Theatre 14 Mar-26 March. Tickets:

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