Shocking new details outlining the full extent of safety failings at immersive zombie show Variant 31 have emerged, revealing that the show’s premises were in breach of fire regulations and had been recommended for closure by the local council.
As reported by The Stage last week, actors involved in the production are chasing what they claim amounts to more than £60,000 in unpaid wages, and have spoken about the unsafe conditions they were working in.
It has now emerged that a closure recommendation was issued by Camden Council on October 22 last year, following an inspection on October 18. The production continued to run in the venue for almost two more weeks, when it was then voluntarily closed.
Producer Dalton Dale has denied that the closure was a result of health and safety concerns and has stood by his previous claim that it was due to technical issues.
It has also come to light that Dale had not received planning permission to stage the show in the premises.
The Stage has seen an enforcement notice issued by the London Fire Brigade and a copy of a letter sent to Dale by Camden Council. These both outline the serious concerns the authorities had about the venue being used to stage Variant 31.
According to an enforcement notice issued by the fire brigade, the premises was guilty of 15 breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This includes failing to provide equipment to tackle fires and failing to “establish an appropriate emergency plan”.
Although the inspection took place on October 17, the enforcement notice was not served until November 25, after the venue had played its final performance on November 2.
However, the local council had already written to Dale on October 22, with a “strong” recommendation that the premises close to “ensure the health and safety” of cast, crew and audiences.
The council’s letter expressed concern that “the general feeling was everything had been rushed at the end to ensure the immersive experience was opened to the paying public”.
The environmental health officer who inspected the premises wrote: “I strongly recommend that you consider closing the immersive experience to the public and completing all of the necessary works to ensure the health and safety of your employees, and anyone else who may be harmed by your work activities or workplace, is maintained.”
The Variant 31 site was located on New Oxford Street in London and operated across several floors and rooms. The letter claims that Dale had been “unable to demonstrate that the fixed electrical installation at the premises has been maintained so as to prevent… danger.” It goes on to describe danger as “risk of death or injury from electric shock, electric burns… or fire or explosion initiated by electrical energy”.
The letter also identified hazards including “risk of falls from height in some rooms” and missing handrails on staircases.
A spokesman for the council confirmed its investigation had been carried out following concerns raised by the London Fire Brigade, and had requested that required works be carried out within a specified time frame.
“These were not fully complied with before the venue voluntarily closed,” he said.
He added: “If the venue had remained open without complying, the council would have been able to instigate legal proceedings relating to the specific health and safety failures or take any other appropriate enforcement action required.”
He said the council had called for a meeting with Dale to “discuss suspected breaches of health and safety legislation”.
“The premises will not be allowed to reopen until the necessary improvements have been made to ensure the safety of their employees and members of the public is maintained,” he said.
However, despite these statements Dale has insisted the site had “passed every inspection” from the fire brigade, council and Equity and that it was “allowed to remain operational”. He denied improvements had not been made following the inspections.
“At no point did any competent body issue a closure notice,” he said, adding: “After our inspections there were improvements we were asked to make, which were actioned within the time frames given. This includes adding additional emergency lighting, fire extinguishers, and providing updated electrical certificates and updated risk assessments.”
He claimed the production had “hundreds of pages of risk assessments, evacuation procedures and emergency protocols”.
Dale also insisted he was confident he would receive planning permission for the site, despite not having it before starting to use it. He said it was the council’s policy to allow the use of abandoned buildings for art, theatre and music events.
“We have submitted a planning application under these guidelines, which will grant retrospective permission. This application process is still ongoing, with a successful resolution expected to be reached in the next few weeks,” he added.
When Variant 31 closed, Dale originally told The Stage a new production, called Chapter 2, was to open in March. He told The Stage there were no other announcements about this show at this time.