We chatted to the writer about his play Dictating to the Estate, which begins performances at the Maxilla Social Club on the 31st May.
How does it feel to be seeing your play transformed into a production? On the one hand, it feels like a relief. The production was delayed for two years
because of the pandemic, and there were times when I began to wonder whether it would ever come on stage. On the other, the rehearsals been a reminder that all this
time I’ve been working to produce a performance, not a text. It was surprisingly easy to lose sight of this, and the last couple of weeks have been a useful corrective.
What was the deciding factor in wanting to write Dictating to the Estate? The play was inspired by a revulsion and loathing for the ideology, policies,
organisations and individuals that created the conditions which made the Grenfell Tower fire possible. That, and the realisation that to convey that revulsion you really didn’t have to make anything up.
What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show? I hope that the depiction of Kensington and Chelsea Council and its Tenant
Management Organisation might provide audiences with useful information in challenging and holding to account their own local authorities and housing
organisations. I also hope the play will give people a sense of how urgently things need to change in the management an provision of social housing.
How does it feel knowing the performances of the play are happening so close to where the tragedy occurred? It gives you a sense of responsibility, and a sense that you cannot afford to get things wrong. This is a play where aesthetic errors could translate very directly into ethical ones, and everyone involved in it is very aware of this. We have tried to keep the bereaved and survivors, and Grenfell United – the organisation that represents them – involved in what we’re doing. Among other things, we have held public readings for them and consulted with those of them we represent on stage. We are currently fundraising for a mental health worker to offer support to any audience members who may be affected by the content of the play.
There are so many different aspects to this story – what would you say your starting point for Dictating to the Estate was? In early 2017, I was thinking about writing a play about the history of housing activism in North Kensington. Then the fire happened, and the focus of the play shifted. At first it seemed impossible to say anything about the fire that had not already been said. But then I came across the blog kept by Edward Daffarn and Francis O’Connor, two community activists living on the estate where Grenfell Tower stood, which gave a detailed account of the council’s treatment of residents in the years immediately preceding the fire. This became the main source for the first draft of the play.
How have you felt in re-telling this story? The story is in many ways a microcosm for much of what is wrong with the country: institutions acting with a veneer of democratic accountability, but none of the substance; local and national governments engaged in the progressive privatisation of every public resource; a growing disdain for health and safety standards and a
progressive cheapening of human life. Most of all, though, there is the contempt for those living on low incomes and in social housing, a sense that their lives count for
less, and a feeling of impunity in persecuting and dispossessing them. That is Kensington and Chelsea in the early twenty-first century, but it is also much of the
By Emma Clarendon
Dictating to the Estate will be performed at the Maxilla Social Club from the 31st May until the 12th June. To book tickets visit: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/Special-Measures