Grenfell: System Failure review – sobering unpicking of a tragedy

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Staged a fewer minutes distant from Grenfell Tower, this play drawn from the inquiry into the 2017 inferno that took 72 lives has assemblage members who knowledgeable nan disaster firsthand and person seen accountability avoided for causes and responses. “They’ve sewage distant pinch it,” a subsister sitting adjacent to maine says successful nan interval. The system, they add, “is not group up for us”.

That’s why nan charismatic enquiry – bringing truth to ray and owed to study later this twelvemonth – is truthful crucial. Since 1994, writer Richard Norton-Taylor and head Nicolas Kent person created a bid of forensic tribunal plays. Grenfell: Value Engineering (2021) distilled nan inquiry’s first phase; this follow-up specifications nan endemic work dodging – commercialized and regulatory – that nurtured calamity. A civilian servant claims “fire information is simply a very subjective subject”; petulant Lord Pickles (played by Howard Crossley) huffs astatine interrogation.

 System Failure.
‘Petulant’ … Howard Crossley arsenic Eric Pickles successful Grenfell: System Failure. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Questioning is led by Richard Millett, counsel to nan inquiry. Ron Cook, a terrier of an actor, gets his teeth into squirming and stonewalling witnesses, quoting damning group chats (“all we do is dishonesty successful here”) aliases insisting that “science was secretly perverted for financial gain”. Regulators, investigation bodies, authorities – each swerve apology aliases work until pressed.

The play text’s afterword quotes Millett’s excoriating closing reside astir nan pervasive buck-passing: “the merry-go-round turns still”. Norton-Taylor and Kent take to fto audiences tie their ain conclusions, truthful don’t shape this speech. Theirs is an almost anti-theatrical theatre. Its mounting is bland wood and grey flooring, its connection is sober. Rare striking phrases resound: a barrister declaring that lives “cannot beryllium sacrificed astatine nan altar of austerity” aliases a occurrence main lamenting “an article of nationalist shame”.

The erstwhile play didn’t characteristic grounds from nan bereaved. Here, we perceive a emotion relationship publication by Tanveer Ghani astir “Saber” Neda, who mislaid his life aft turning backmost to thief his neighbours, and nan play is bookended pinch grounds from Hisam Choucair (Shahzad Ali). He describes really his hunt for his family was unaided, moreover obstructed, and is nan only witnesser to propose racism arsenic a factor. He besides questions nan missing accountability: “how these crooks are still hiding”.

  • Grenfell: System Failure is astatine nan Playground theatre, London, until 25 February; nan Tabernacle, London, 27 February-12 March; and Marylebone theatre, London, 14-26 March.

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