Value Engineering, Scenes From The Grenfell Inquiry: The Tabernacle
- Credit: Tristram Kenton
Let's hope the tragedy of Grenfell made local authorities review their procedures for renovating old housing stock - and pray they are never on the stand explaining why 72 people died on their watch.
In the meantime, there's The Grenfell Inquiry into the disastrous project by Kensington & Chelsea to refurbish a 1970s tower block. The team behind many verbatim tribunal plays at Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre avoid individual survivor testimony to focus on the issue of responsibility for how a 24-story building was clad with combustible panels.
Muswell Hill journalist Richard Norton-Taylor has studiously distilled three years of testimony and "a merry-go-round of buck passing" by architects, building control, contractors and the Tenant Management Organisation that commissioned the work.
Seemingly dry email exchanges and fire safety reports are anything but as Ron Cook's counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett expertly skewers evasions and inconsistencies with a downbeat 'right'.
The Inquiry has yet to report but lightbulb moments in Nicolas Kent's sombre production include a contractor who put his 25 year old son in charge, an over-worked austerity-sapped building controller, architects who didn't consider fire safety their job, and a council that built a shiny academy and leisure centre next to the 'blight' of Grenfell then wanted to improve its aesthetic while dismissing concerned residents as 'troublemakers'.
So-called 'Value Engineering' was the cost before safety imperative to cut £800,000 from the tender price which saw zinc cladding swapped for Aluminium Composites made with flammable plastic cores.
Within 30 minutes of the first report, the fire had reached the top of the building. In the words of a firefighter searching for a lone 13-year-old on the 19th floor: "I'd never seen anything like that before..flame on the outside of the window." Meanwhile a fire brigade control room officer conveys the confusion and difficulty of advising desperate callers to evacuate a smoke-filled building.
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Amid incompetence and cost-cutting, Leslie Thomas QC for the bereaved survivors and residents calls out "the elephant in the room," the disproportionate number of victims who were poor and of colour. It's not an easy watch, but Value Engineering is urgent, relevant theatre. 4/5 stars.