By Marie-Louise Gumuchian
LONDON – In a rehearsal room in west London, actor Derek Elroy delivers a powerful monologue about the devastating 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower, a social housing block just a short distance away.
In the role of barrister Leslie Thomas, Elroy’s lines are taken from the public inquiry into the blaze which killed 72 people on the night of June 14, 2017.
“The Grenfell fire did not happen in a vacuum. This was not simply a local tragedy for west London. It had and has national and global ramifications,” Elroy tells the other actors on the makeshift set playing various parties in the inquiry.
“Those who were affected come from a cultural, racially ethnically, religiously and economically diverse group. This disaster happened within a pocket of one of the smallest yet richest boroughs in London.”
Play “Value Engineering: Scenes From the Grenfell Inquiry” is based on words of those involved in the public Grenfell Tower Inquiry, set up in the aftermath of Britain’s deadliest domestic fire in a generation.
Following the blaze, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered the inquiry led by retired judge Martin Moore-Bick. Phase 1, which looked at what happened on the night of the fire, concluded in December 2018.
The play is based verbatim on the ongoing Phase 2, which examines the cause of the fire, including the building’s refurbishment and condition which allowed it to quickly turn into an inferno.
“We’re concentrating more on the story people know less about, the story of the botched refurbishment and obviously the story which has become of huge prominence with the public these days is the story about the cladding materials that were used,” director Nicolas Kent told Reuters.
The dangerous combustible cladding used on the residential block was identified as central to the fire’s quick spread, and has since been found on buildings across Britain, calling for expensive removal or round-the-clock fire watches.
The play, a not-for-profit production, will show at London’s Tabernacle theatre from Oct. 13 -Nov. 13, before moving to the Birmingham Repertory theatre for a Nov. 16 – Nov. 20 run.
“It’s got a broader significance,” said journalist and playwright Richard Norton-Taylor, who edited the transcripts and has worked with Kent on other verbatim inquiry plays before.
“I hope people will be surprised and shocked by the attitude of a lot of the companies and even the officials involved … I got angry just reading it … because it was avoidable.”