Some people just don’t matter. I mean they should. Especially to those who are elected and employed to serve them. But they just don’t. That is the truth at the bitter heart of ‘Dictating to the Estate’.
Pieced together from witness statements, meeting minutes, emails, reports, and contemporary blogs this ‘found play’ (made up only of words taken through trawling through thousands of such documents) this play highlights the indifference (at best) and hostility that organised residents of the Grenfell Estate were treated with long before the night of the tragic fire that claimed 72 lives and impacted so many more.
It is in this editing together a story from these pieces that the power of the piece is derived. It shows, in the own words of both sides, the gulf between what the Tennant Management Organisation (TMO) and the council of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) thought their role was and what was actually needed from them by their residents. Both the TMO and RBKC would probably have told you at the time that there were not even two sides. So strong was their dismissal of the valid voices and concerns of residents and so determined were they to ‘professionalise’ ‘optimise’ and ‘regenerate’ (a euphemism for upgrading not the lives of current residents, but the class of those living in the area) that they dismissed any and all opposition, criticism or even polite questioning as coming from a small group of cranks. Once that mindset took hold, they could then easily dismiss the residents’ fears and concerns.
It has taken a certain degree of skill from writer Nathanial McBride to find the right parts of the mountains of text to illuminate this story quite so well. While these are not McBride’s own words, the way they have been put together shows an editorial flourish that is essential in ensuring audience attention and buy-in. While I felt there was a slight sagging of the action towards the last third of the play, even this could be artistically justified. The returning repeatedly to blocking of resident voices throughout the ‘upgrading’ project felt a little repetitive as an audience member. But it also powerfully dramatized the Kafkaesque feeling the residents themselves were feeling and that underlined their frustration.
The play opens and closes on witness testimony from the night of the fire itself. But in a brave and correct artistic decision, it does not dwell on these stories. It would have been easy to do so. The 72 dead and their families deserve their day and in terms of easy connection with the audience, telling the stories of the dead would have given an instant connection.
However, this piece does something ultimately even more important than that. It shows not the immediate causes of death but the long terms culture that allowed these causes in. Through greed, through detachment, through a lack of interest in the lives of those who should have been the only interest of the council. It is in this powerful deep dive through a world where everyone else is in charge and no one Is responsible that Dictating the Estate shows its power and its teeth.
- Documentary play
- Written by Nathaniel McBride
- Directed by Lisa Goldman and Natasha Langridge
- Starring Tamara Camacho, Lucy Ellinson, Jon Foster, Nathan Ives-Moiba, Avin Shah
- At: Maxilla Social Club, Kensington
- Until : 12th June 2022
- At 7:30