Theatre review - Grenfell

IN the early hours of 14 June 2017, a fire broke out in a block of flats in North Kensington, west London. Seventy-two people died.

Gillian Slovo’s verbatim play highlights the experience of 11 survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Slovo draws on extensive conversations with the bereaved, former residents and the wider North Kensington community.

The actors introduce themselves and the characters they will be playing. They describe the sense of community in the tower and how they looked out for one another. The first hour explores the warning signs the residents flagged before the tragedy, the lack of investment in the tower block and their safety concerns.

During its eventual refurbishment, corners were cut to save money and deadly cladding was fitted to the outside – the materials used were highly combustible. Despite a risk assessment raising several issues, nothing was done.

The second half presents the night of the tragedy and the residents describe how they made their escape: one was pregnant, another on crutches. Many were fatally delayed by the official recommendation to “stay put”.

Throughout are interwoven scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry, which interrogate the deregulation exploited by various key figures. This inevitably led to cost-cutting and a blatant disregard for health and safety.

Phyllida Lloyd and Anthony Simpson-Pike’s sensitive co-production is played in-the-round, the action takes place on a bare stage, except for several cardboard packing boxes which take on a poignant resonance towards the end of the play.

At the end a short film with statements from the survivors underlines the continued campaign for justice. We are led out of the auditorium as part of a peaceful protest, reminding us that no one has been held to account yet for their unspeakable loss.

Unmissable and powerful theatre.

Originally publihsed by Westminster Extra

Until August 26