‘The Grenfell Project is a vibrant and an important piece of theatre. Raw and occasionally rough around the edges, its power is undeniable’
There are times when you are reminded about the full scale of an event and, by extension, reminded of theatre’s potential role in tackling the major issues of the day.
The fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017 should have been the defining event of our times. 72 people officially died in a blaze that spread because of cladding which was a less safe, indeed a dangerous, refurbishment option that was chosen simply due to its cheaper cost. It was an age old story of the more disadvantaged in society being treated in a way the rich never would be. Another key aspect of the story was that, despite volunteers and donations flooding in, the official response and co-ordination of help and supplies were equally as calamitous.
The Grenfell Project takes up the Grenfell story. The energetic collection of young actors present their own take on the tragedy and its aftermath. Rather than attempting to tell the story in a linear fashion, the play presents life around the tower and the surrounding community, provides accounts of people trapped in the blaze, and gives the fire brigade’s perspective, as well as portraying the hapless council. It also connects to wider issues, such as the establishment protecting its own, referencing the long fight for justice over Hillsborough.
And now the official inquiry is unlikely now to make any criminal charges for two years. The question is why isn’t Grenfell on our front pages and screens every day? The literal answer might be Brexit, and its endless meaningful and meaningless votes, but it runs deeper than that. Once the initial shock subsided, Grenfell has been much less of a part of the national conversation. Why?
Theatre is one way to plug the gap. Imaginatively directed by Eleanor Crouch, The Grenfell Project uses a variety of forms and mediums, including performance poetry, video footage, audio recording and song. It is underpinned by an agitprop ethos, the anger palatable throughout, complete with a call to arms around the issue of cladding at the end. At points the actors are literally shouting in the audience’s faces, and the fury always feels justified. Yet it is in the quieter moments that the play is most powerful. A performance poetry piece early on about the vibrant hustle and bustle of life around the tower, in a borough of hugely contrasting wealth, is reminiscent of early Berkoff. And when talking about the children involved in the fire, and the lack of support for them, the piece becomes almost unbearably moving.
The Grenfell Project is a vibrant and an important piece of theatre. Raw and occasionally rough around the edges, its power is undeniable. Be prepared to be angry, be prepared to weep – my companion for the evening cried so much we had to ask the stage manager for some tissues. Most importantly be prepared to ask ‘why?’
THE GRENFELL PROJECT
Devised by The Company
Directed by Eleanor Crouch