Value Engineering Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry

The FPA reports on opening night for Richard Norton-Taylor's new play, Value Engineering, which turns transcripts from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry into a compelling drama. 

It is now more than four years since the tragic events of 14 June 2017 where 72 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower Fire. The public inquiry continues its work to examine why it was possible for a fire in a fridge freezer to spread outside of a flat, up the external wall and ultimately engulf an entire high-rise residential building.

Richard Norton-Taylor has taken extracts of evidence from a range of witnesses to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Through some thoughtful sequencing, he has pieced together a verbatim examination of the fire, its causes, and the role of the companies involved in refurbishing the Tower in the years up to 2017. The result is a powerful play that through the course of its 2 hours and 40 minutes shows the tragedy of the fire and the attitudes of those who have in the aftermath sought to distance themselves from blame. 

“The intention behind the play is to help the public get an overview of the Inquiry’s work and to hold the people and systems responsible for the tragedy to account.”

Drama as documentary is not new and Richard Norton-Taylor, previously of the Guardian, has experience of the genre. He used the transcripts from the Macpherson inquiry to shine a spotlight into why the young black teenager, Stephen Lawrence was killed. That was in 1999 and here in 2021 he repeats the approach to great effect.

The cover art to advertise the play is clever. On close examination, the bar code reveals the date of the fire and the shape of the lines an outline of the tower and the surrounding flats. Value engineering is also an apt title; it’s a term used many times in the Inquiry as Sir Martin Moore-Bick and legal counsel ably led by Richard Millett QC continue their forensic examination of the evidence. Both are well cast in the play, as are many of the witnesses who take to the stand to share their experience.

Mr Millett’s now famous phrase about the merry-go-round of buck passing is there, along with the flourish he gave when presenting the pile of black notebooks to Peter Maddison, who had neglected to share them with the Inquiry team beforehand. Fellow tenant management organisation employee, Claire Williams admitted she had binned her notebooks and she too is cast in poor light.

Nick Kent produces and directs Value Engineering. He places the counsel who represent the bereaved, survivors and residents centre stage, standing addressing the audience directly. Their statements are powerful reminders of why the Inquiry is there even if it has fallen away from the news cycle, they provide the important voice of the residents.

At the end of the play, an empty silent stage gives way to the list of the names of those who died. Remembering them, seeking the truth and getting justice for them and those left behind is why the Inquiry continues its work and why Value Engineering is so very important.

Value Engineering is on at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, West London until 13 November, then it transfers to the Birmingham REP from 16-20 November.