Value Engineering: Scenes From The Grenfell Inquiry – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Reviewer: James Garrington

Editor: Richard Norton-Taylor

Director : Nick Kent

Shortly before 1am on 14th June 2017 one flat in a tower block in west London caught fire.

The ensuing conflagration burned for 60 hours, resulted in 72 people losing their lives, and sent shock waves through the country. A public inquiry was set up to investigate – and over four years on, that inquiry is still underway.

Value Engineering: Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry presents the audience with some small, edited sequences of the still-ongoing inquiry, using the words that were spoken during questioning and witness statements presented to the inquiry, with the aim of giving the public an overview of the main points of the evidence so far and with the stated intention of “holding the people and systems responsible for this avoidable tragedy to account.”

The play starts relatively slowly – setting the scene, introducing the main participants and hearing from expert witnesses who describe the layout and structure of the block, and the nature of the cladding and insulation that was used as part of a refurbishment. We then move to the first on-the-scene witness – a very emotional firefighter David Badillo (movingly portrayed by Daniel Betts), recounting his efforts to rescue a child from the 19th floor of the smoke-filled building. With him, as with many of the following witnesses, the questioning from Counsel to the Inquiry Richard Mallett QC (a totally credible Ron Cook) is sometimes brutal, laden with challenges about why they didn’t follow a certain course of action.

On we go to Sarah Russell (Claire Lams), relatively new to the job and telling us how she was dealing with the calls from the tower single-handed as no one was available to support her before we arrive at the people responsible for the actual refurbishment. The architect, the contractor, the cladding subcontractor, the Tenant Management Organisation, all, according to Richard Millett QC, leaving the checks on building regulations and fire safety to someone else. We hear too from the responsible Building Control Officer John Hoban (emotionally portrayed here by Howard Ward), a man seemingly broken by the experience.

It is pointed out that it is impossible to ignore the context here too, and on the way through there are powerful speeches from Barristers representing the Bereaved, Survivors and Residents Group (BSR). Leslie Thomas QC – notably the only Black Barrister to address the inquiry at the time of writing – said: “What does COVID-19 have in common with Grenfell? Race and poverty. That political, social and economic context cannot be brushed aside in investigating it.”

The final words are left to BSR’s Michael Mansfield QC “It’s one thing to work out how the fire was caused, and how the deaths were caused; the bigger question is: why did this happen?”

If you want happy, feel-good entertainment, then this is certainly not it. However, it will make you angry, it will make you cry, it will make you think, and it will engross you from start to finish. More than anything it is utterly believable, and you could so easily be in the public gallery of a Public Inquiry watching events unfold.

Compelling. A powerful piece of theatre.

Runs until 20 November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

A powerful piece of theatre

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