‘Tears are not enough’ – Grenfell: in the words of survivors review

Gillian Slovo’s play takes the words of ten survivors of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe and weaves them into a composition of astonishing power.

Following the two verbatim plays by Richard Norton-Taylor and Nicolas Kent that reproduced the inquiry, this adds to the accumulating evidence of the venality and negligence that cost 72 lives.

It begins with each actor introducing themselves and the real people they represent. As they start to relate their personal histories and their lives in the building before the devastating fire, a portrait of a mixed but mutually supportive community in public housing is conveyed with heart-stirring clarity.

In the first half, the dramas and incidents are domestic – kids’ games in the stairwells, broken lifts, neighbourly to-ings and fro-ings.

Neo-Realism and theatre go hand in hand as lighting, sound and props (one box of salvaged possessions per person) lift it into a more inclusive dimension.

READ MORE: Eerie photos show abandoned theatre frozen in time

Divided into two halves – the first before the fire, the second half the conflagration and escape – the testimonies culled from interviews are interspersed with interrogations from the inquiry.

The guilty parties are named although the individuals, companies and institutions responsible have yet to face charges.

Directed by Phillida Lloyd and Anthony Simpson-Pike, this is truly collective theatre; each actor brings a distinct voice to their stories and all are superb.

Small details resonate; the Italian hotel worker ringing his work to apologise for not coming in, a man and his wife having to leave their dog behind in the inferno; a disabled man negotiating the stairs in total darkness and choking smoke.

We see nothing graphic but we can imagine the horror all too clearly. The final coup de theatre is almost unbearably moving. Tears are not enough.

Grenfell: In the Words of Survivors, National Theatre until August 26, Tickets:  020 3989 5455

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