Grenfell review – so poignant you want to scream | Television

lIn 2021, the non-profit play Grenfell: Value Engineering – Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry ran at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, West London, and then at the Birmingham Rep. It was a literal dramatization of testimonials from the Grenfell Tower investigation. A performance of the Tabernacle is televised here in two parts, with the simplified title Grenfell (channel 4). Jon Snow introduces it with a brief and damning explanation of why this piece exists. He recalls meeting 12-year-old Firdaws Hashim two months before the fire, when he chaired a school essay competition, which she won. She died in the fire, along with her parents and two brothers. The hope, Snow says, is that nothing like this will ever happen again.

After seeing this horrific report of corporate blame shifting and repeated denial, I’m not sure we have any hope. It’s been five years since the Grenfell fire. It’s worth watching this production considering that no criminal charges have been filed yet. During the anniversary celebrations, the community group Justice4Grenfell set up a street party table in the shadow of the tower, displaying placards with the names of the victims and the words: “72 dead. And still no arrests? How could that be?”

When the play was first announced, but before it was staged, there was debate online about whether it was appropriate to “dramatize” the tragedy, and whether it would be a case of white, middle-class lunatics imagining the horrific events. of that play. night for their art. But this is not so much a dramatization as it is a carefully chosen selection of real evidence designed to tell the story of what happened and suggest some of the many reasons why. It is, of course, about poverty and race. Most of the victims were working-class people of color living in social housing in one of the wealthiest parts of the country.

The piece is very procedural. This is a story told in acronyms, codes and timestamps. Barristers reference and display on-screen witness statements, memos, telephone statements, CCTV, flow charts and emails. But this technical approach is not difficult to follow and gives an immersive feeling. The only memory that this is a play, not scenes from the investigation, are the occasional shots of an audience watching in rapt silence.

Shifting the blame… Thomas Wheatley, Ron Cook and Sarah Coates in Grenfell. Photo: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Phase one of the study began in May 2018 and ended in December of that year. It was intended to provide a factual account of what happened and begins with reports from members of the fire service. An actor plays the first firefighter to enter the tower, describing the confusion in the night, the decisions he made and why. An emergency room official speaks of “something very different from ever before”, describing how long it took for the “sit down” advice to be changed to tell people to leave.

It’s harrowing from start to finish, though the reasons for this shift and evolution evolve. The evidence given during phase two of the investigation comes from the business side: the architects and the contractors. A flowchart explaining the various companies involved in the renovation of Grenfell which was completed just a year before the fire is helpful, if only to keep track of the outrageous abdication of responsibility and blame shift.

This is a litany of damning indictments, and the success of this piece could be in making the general public aware of the egregious failures of the many agencies involved in the tower’s renovation. The cladding was seen as an aesthetic choice, a way of making the 1970s social housing look ‘better’. The architectural firm that won the contract, Studio E, had no experience with high-rise housing, and one of the architects admits to being “a little green in terms of process and engineering” in an email shown on the screen.

Everyone shifts the responsibility to another department. Costs are saved and money is saved. No sprinklers were installed and it is claimed that the cladding materials used were “inert and would not burn at all”, despite strong evidence to the contrary. A resident concerned about fire safety is dismissed as ‘a known troublemaker’. Again, these are verbatim accounts of the investigation itself. No dramatization is required, just a montage that clarifies what the audience has been told. You want to scream. But crucially, you want action. Seventy-two dead and still no arrests? How is that possible?

Episode two of Grenfell is on Channel 4, June 14, 11:05pm

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