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Grenfell: System Failure at The Playground Theatre

Damning, bleak and intense, System Failures: Scenes from The Grenfell Inquiry is a brutal condemnation of the corruption at the heart of this deeply preventable disaster. Richard Norton-Taylor & Nicholas Kent continue their work reminding us of the prevalence of Grenfell as it slips dangerously into the background of our political landscape.

Grenfell System Failure - Olivia Haw and Sally Giles (Kate Grange QC) - Photographer Tristram Kenton.
Grenfell System Failure – Olivia Haw and Sally Giles (Kate Grange QC) – Photographer Tristram Kenton.

The performance is comprised of a curated selection of scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry played as meticulously and accurately as possible. There is no theatre, no indulgence in theatricality, just a diligent exhibition of conscious negligence, leaving facts bare for audiences to make their own conclusions. The narrative of the piece, if there is one, is largely showing the widespread and total lack of standards, exposing governmental and corporate self-interest at the heart of this corruption.

System Failures‘ is an interesting title for the play and poses a question for the piece. Are the failings errors in the system or is it a system that facilitates negligence, corruption and malpractice? The piece follows on from Richard Norton-Taylor and Nicolas Kent’s previous collaborations which have covered similarly high-profile inquiries into Jimmy Saville, the murder of Stephen Lawrence and more recently the earlier stages of the Grenfell Inquiry. This piece is harsher earlier on, it wastes very little time in getting to the core of the issues, and casts a damning portrait of the many moving parts involved in the mistreatment and neglect of Grenfell residents, leading to their deaths.

This is an unusual piece of theatre for many reasons. There are questions to be asked about making theatre before the inquiry has published its final findings, but this piece does the crucial job of keeping Grenfell in the current political landscape.

By Tom Carter

Based entirely on the words of those involved in the final phase of the Inquiry (which ended in November 2022), this new play interrogates why the testing regime failed to warn of the danger of installing inflammable materials, why manufacturers promoted such products with no regard to safety, why government regulations ignored the dangers and were not updated, and why politicians failed to ensure proper oversight. Through the testimonies of bereaved residents, it explores how they were failed by the London Fire Brigade on the night and abandoned by the Local Authority in the chaos of the fire’s aftermath.

Grenfell: System Failure tours to three West London venues: The Playground Theatre, The Tabernacle and The Marylebone Theatre, from 18 February – 26 March 2023.

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