Grenfell System Failure – scenes from the inquiry by Richard Norton-Taylor with Nicolas Kent. The Tabernacle, 34 Powis Square, London W11. 27 February 2023. 4****. William Russell.

When I reviewed Grenfell – Value Engineering the dramatised account of the proceeding of the inquire I did not award any stars so powerful, devastating and shameful was the account of the proceeding of the inquire into the disaster that do so it seemed obscene as indeed did applauding at the end. This time round, however, although what Norton Taylor and Nicolas Kent have constructed from the inquiry reports is every bit as shameful, and the testimony of one family member, Hisam Choucair, about the events of the night required a warning in advance that it could prove so upsetting people might wish to leave, I have done so. It is not a great play but it is a powerful and devastating piece of theatre, all the more so in an age when reports of inquiries really often, while they may produce headlines, do not convey what the actual inquiry was like. As well as Choucair’s evidence, which is disturbing especially about the chaos on the night and the failure to help people desperate to know what had happened to their family members, to which hospital they could have been sent, the witnesses frequently condemn themselves for the most appalling buck passing, the failure to act in the past when there was evidence of the dangers of cladding from fires in high rise towers available. They have done what was required which was send a memo to the next person in line and things got mired in the bureaucratic system where government policy meant ministers did not do anything about pressing their civil servants to act or seek clarification on what is being done. It also contains a devastating portrait of how Eric Pickles, then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, behaved in office – he condemns himself out of his own mouth. P:ickles was the sort of politician being a North Countryman who presented himself a bluff, no nonsense plain speaker – particularly on television – and now he has his peerage as a reward. The Pickles giving evidence is something else altogether and Howard Crossley gives a splendid performance in the role.

The inquiry hears endless evidence in which the buck just gets passed and the fire brigade comes out particularly badly, not because of any lack of heroism on the night but because of the disclosure of how practices were not up dated, the evidence of other fires in tower blocks not considered – and there was plenty of evidence available – and the stay put advice to residents adhered to until finally the officer in charge realised it had to be abandoned. Sales managers, British Engineering Research Establishment officials and others are condemned not so much out of their own mouths – they are all sorry for what happened – as by the paper trail of memos or e mails showing how things got sidelined. It is not a comfortable evening and also makes one question just how much damage reshuffles can do to a department when ministers arrive in rapid succession and have to start getting to know both their brief and their officials – especially when the remit of a department can also have been altered. It also presents a shaming portrait of how unprepared Kensington’s officials were to deal with such a fire.

The cast

Thomas Wheatley, Ron Cook, Sally Giles, Shahzad Ali, Nicholas Chambers, Madeleine Bowyer, Derek Elroy, David Michaels, Tanveer Ghani, Sophie Duval, Nigel Betts, Howard Crossley, David Michaels, David Boyle.

Director: Nicholas Kent.

Inquiry Room recreated by Miki Jablkowska & Matt England.

Lighting Design: Matt England.

Sound ^ Video Design: Andy Graham.

Costume Design: Carly Brownbridge.

Photography: Beresford Hodge.

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