We are approaching the 5th anniversary of the cataclysmic inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower and killed 72 people. Post-pandemic, as we ponder war in Europe, food bank ubiquity and a shifty party-clown PM, there’s a danger of taking an eye off Grenfell. More fatalities could haunt us, if we don’t wise-up, listen to campaigners and hold the guilty to account.
The luxury of looking elsewhere is not afforded to those who lost their lives, or to their loved ones whose grief is poisoned by righteous fury. The inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has spent £117m of public money so far. £60m got sucked up by lawyers working for the core participants. Arconic, the company that made the combustible cladding sheets has splashed £55m on legal and professional advice for its defence. All. That. Money.
When non-combustible zinc panels were swapped for a plastic-filled cheaper model that burns like a firework, the savings made by the council amounted to £293,000. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is the richest local authority in the country and home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The Council and TMO (Tenant Managed Organisation) cut corners and inflicted petty penny pinching on their poorest residents. In the long run, this tactic wasn’t just a false economy, it killed people.
Dictating to The Estate is a necessary blend of documentary theatre and community activism. It’s concerned with events preceding the Grenfell Tower fire, comprised of council meeting minutes, blog posts, real emails and personal testimonies. The dizzying cost and unjust nonsense of the post-disaster response is enraging enough, but this crucial play highlights the epic failings, hubris and culpability of the Council and a menagerie of sub-contractors and stakeholders. It’s blood boiling, compulsive and uncomfortably provocative. Bertolt Brecht would be rightly horrified at the state of the world in 2022, but he’d dig this play and its reflection of his principles.
The cast (Tamara Camacho, Lucy Ellinson, Jon Foster, Nathan Ives-Moiba, Alvin Shah) are a highly able ensemble, playing a huge range of characters. Arrogant project managers, slappable CEOs, Fire Test Laboratory technicians, useless politicians and frustrated Grenfell residents are just some of the players in this woeful tale that trades in truth. One can’t escape from the buck-passing, failure and corruption of those who were paid to keep people safe and address to their concerns. Regardless of the inquiry’s findings, the evidence in Nathanial McBride’s script is utterly damning.
Dictating to the Estate was staged at Maxilla Social Club in Kensington. It stands 200 metres from the site of the tower and was a focal point for donations, protests and volunteers in 2017. It’s not a theatre. In fact, it feels like The Jockey from Shameless, with a cash bar, functional concrete terrace and semi-hidden home under the A40 Westway. The location, vibes and history of the venue make it a perfect spot to hit people with a poignant punch.
After this harrowing and confrontational play, audience members leave through a car park full of activist street art, flanked by a memorial wall and overlooked by the charred remains of Grenfell Tower. It’s a lot to process, but it’s nothing compared to the trauma of those personally affected by the tragedy. This play nails the corporate criminals, honours the lost and credits campaigners who continue to fight for justice. Dictating to the Estate should be required reading for politicians, civil servants and policy makers. Oh, and the text should added to the GCSE syllabus.
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 7th June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★