Value Engineering: The new Grenfell play should be required viewing

Value Engineering: Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry

Richard Norton-Taylor’s dramatisation of the Grenfell Inquiry shines an uncomfortable light on the construction industry, writes Elizabeth Hopkirk

The actor playing Michael Mansfield QC delivers the final excoriating lines and the room goes dark. The audience applauds vigorously but as the lights come back up the stage is empty. A black rectangle hangs overhead displaying the names of the 72 victims of the fire that ripped through the Grenfell Tower in June 2017.

The decision not to have a curtain call was made by the cast of Value Engineering: Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry as the only fitting way of bringing to a close two and a half hours of devastating verbatim drama.

The first two names on the list are those of Marco Gottardi and Gloria Trevisan, young Italian architects who had recently moved into a flat on the 23rd floor of the 24-storey tower and who, like so many of their neighbours, made a series of increasingly desperate calls to loved ones as the blaze took hold frighteningly fast.

The play opens with expert witness Barbara Lane setting the scene with a factual description of the tower and its refurbishment, then switches to the final minutes of a 13-year-old boy, alone in a flat on the 21st floor. His is the only victim’s story we hear – first through the eyes of a flawed fire fighter who tried to save him, possibly at the expense of other lives; and then through the testimony of a control room officer who took his 999 call.

It is a powerful device, forcing the audience to ask what we would have done and reminding us, if we were in any doubt, why the dry, technical evidence that occupies much of the rest of the play matters: the litany of errors and omissions made by clients, consultants and contractors led to the horrific and avoidable deaths of 72 children and adults.

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