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Theatre Review Must-see drama sparks burning questions on Grenfell disaster

The Burning Tower
Kensal House, London/Touring

THEATRE presented in the heart of the community it represents is all too rare. But SPID (Social Political Innovative Direct) Theatre — is an award-winning youth charity that does just that. Specialising in community art on council estates, it has a track record of capturing real-life stories and giving voice to the unheard.

Based in Kensal House under the shadow of Grenfell Tower, the company had no option but to respond to the terrible tragedy on their doorstep, not easy when emotions are at their peak and shock obliterates even the simplest of words.

The result, though, is the complex and heartfelt interactive drama Burning Tower, after the tarot card image signifying drastic and dramatic change and turmoil.

Written by their live-wire artistic director Helena Thompson, and produced in association with Bush Theatre, it's inspired by numerous interviews with local people and a fierce defence of social housing emerges as a noble cause for society at large.

Em and Sarah, ethnically different and with varying experiences of life, are bound by youth, community and lasting friendship and the play begins as the former bursts into a rap which soon develops into an excited exposition about the history of social housing and the value of its communities.

They are suddenly interrupted by a nameless older woman who, played by the gloriously mercurial Hayley Carmichael as part-bag lady, part-nomad, poses a whirlwind of questions and offers deep wisdom. Through her, we delve into the infinite chasm of all that is unspoken and learn of the trauma that silences the girls and, from Sarah particularly, all that has been lost.

It's a wonderfully truthful and passionate piece and Alice Franziska as Em and Bianca Stephens as Sarah should pride themselves on the integrity and energy of their performances. They show how Grenfell is not only a horrific indictment of all that should be caring in our country but how it is savaging lives. As Sarah quite simply explains, this is the worst it's ever been. And to prove it, and with nothing else to protect her, she now carries a knife.

The whole interactive evening gives voice to the bereaved and significance to the lost, and the rough edges enhance its authenticity. It's currently on in London and goes to Gloucester next week. Its next stop should be the Commons.

Runs at Kensal House until October 6 and then at The Redwell Centre, Gloucester, on October 7, details: spidtheatre.com

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