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Nathaniel McBride - Dictating To The Estate Interview

Dicating to the Estate is a fascinating new documentary play by playwright Nathaniel McBride. The play explores the events leading up to the Grenfell Tower fire. 

Using council minutes, emails, and blog posts, McBride developed the piece to tell the story of the tower and residents' attempts to hold the Council to account.

The piece is playing at Maxilla Social Club until Sunday 12th June. During the run there a couple of post-show discussions and also a couple of Pay What You Can performances. Visit for further details. 

I spoke to playwright McBride about the piece and explore it in further detail.

Q: Can you please introduce the play?

A: Dictating to the Estate is a documentary play about events leading up to the Grenfell Tower fire. Using contemporary emails, blog posts and council minutes, it tells the story of the refurbishment of the tower and how residents tried to hold the council to account. At the same time, it places these events in a wider context of austerity, deregulation and estate regeneration.

Q: What inspired the creation of the piece?

A: In early 2017 I was thinking of writing a play about the history of housing activism in North Kensington. Then the fire happened, and the focus of the play shifted. Initially I could not see how to write about it, but then I found the blog kept by Ed Daffarn and Francis O’Connor, two residents living on the estate where Grenfell Tower stood. It offered a way of approaching the fire within the local context.

Nathaniel McBride

Q: What research did you have to do when writing the piece?

A: The blog was my first main source of material. Then last year the public inquiry covered the events described in the play, vastly increasing the range of information at my disposal. Books like Anna Minton’s Big Capital and Stuart Hodkinson’s Safe as Houses were also very useful as background reading. Pete Apps’ reporting for Inside Housing was invaluable.

Q: What do you want an audience to take away from seeing Dictating to the Estate?

A: I am hoping that people will learn more about what happened to the residents of Grenfell Tower before the fire – in part how they were treated by the council and its managing agents the TMO, but also how they organised and fought for their rights. I am also hoping that many people will recognise in their story their own experiences of dealing with their local authority.

Q: What do you think the lasting effects of the Grenfell Tower fire will be?

A: It depends what effects we are talking about, and for whom. For those directly affected by the fire, the loss and trauma will persist over several generations. On the other hand, if we are talking about legislation to improve fire safety, the indications so far are that any changes are likely to be minimal.

The government has recently rejected the Inquiry’s recommendation to provide personal emergency escape plans for elderly or disabled people living in apartment blocks, and it is reasonable to assume that it will treat its other findings in the same way. Finally, for the individuals and organisations responsible for the refurbishment of the tower, or for allowing the use of the highly flammable cladding used on the building, it is looking like there will be virtually no consequences at all. From what I hear, the latest indications are that there will be no prosecutions, only fines.

Q: How important is it that those accountable are held responsible for the tragedy?

A: In the view of Grenfell United, the main organisation representing the bereaved and the survivors, a just outcome must involve criminal prosecutions against those responsible. This is also my view.

Q: Why should somebody come and see Dictating to the Estate?

A: I think the story is in many ways a microcosm of what is wrong with this country. It involves the privatisation of public goods, the stripping back of safety regulations, and a contempt and disregard for those living in social housing – all of coming from government institutions that have the appearance of public accountability, but very little of the substance. If that sounds familiar to people, then I think there is a lot in this play that they will recognise from their own experience.

Image by Toby Laurent Belson 

Quickfire Questions:

Q: What was the first piece of theatre that you can remember seeing?

A: It was a play about a caveman found frozen inside a block of ice, whom scientists thaw out and bring back to life. Although the caveman is feted and is turned into a kind of celebrity, he slowly comes to realise that all this attention comes without any real understanding or sympathy. Ultimately he rejects the modern world returns to suspended animation inside his tank.

As an eight year old, I felt sorry for the caveman, but could not really sympathise with him. That has changed as I have got older.

Q: Who are your biggest inspirations?

A: I think the works and writers you admire are often quite different to the ones that actually influence you. I admire the work of Heiner Mueller, but it would be hard for me to say how, if at all, he has influenced me. On the other hand, the documentary plays of Peter Weiss

Q: What is one thing on your bucket list?

A: Spending an extended period of time out of the UK.

Q: What does theatre mean to you?

A: I suppose I am more interested in what theatre is, or might be, rather than any subjective significance it might have for me. And like a lot of other people in this country, I haven’t yet given the subject a lot of critical thought. This is something I am hoping to change.

Dictating to the Estate plays at Maxilla Social Club in London until Sunday 12th June. Tickets and more details can be found at More information about Nathaniel

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