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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Playing with Fire - Towers of Babel

One night over cocktails almost two years ago Dr Cecilia Abecassis-Empis and Jo Rush started talking about what they respectively do; Cecilia, an academic at the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering; and Jo, a freelance theatre director.  The conversation, like many, quickly moved onto the causes of the 9/11 structural collapses of the World Trade Centre (WTC) towers. Cecilia’s and Luke Bisby’s (who over-hearing the conversation could not help but chime in) frustration that the scientific reasoning and underlying messages around these events were not being heard sparked an idea in the creative recesses of Jo’s mind: Towers of Babel was born.

Jo commissioned a play-wright friend to start coming up with ideas and plot lines around the research into the WTC tower collapses, and explore the reasons why the message was not being heard by engineers and the public alike. Conversations over dinner, skype, and at conferences kept the juices flowing and the more questions were answered about “whose fault was it?”, “why has nothing changed?”, and “what other risks are out there?”, the more the play took its initial form. 

However we needed to know whether the characters rang true and whether the message that we wanted to say was coming across. We gave to the play to the actors. At a read-through at the University of Edinburgh in July 2014 five actors along with the play-wright, Jo, and a few academics examined every nuance of story and character. It was a success, and with some final polishing off a final script would be ready.

This is where we are now, with the play-wright looking at the changes and editing the script, and the director looking to expose the play to the public audience.  We are hoping to be previewing the work sometime early next year – with plans to take it to a full production soon afterwards.  Watch this space.


“Towers of Babel is an exciting new play that explores culpability, collusion, and the risks we take every day. It draws on specific research by the University of Edinburgh into why and how the World Trade Centre towers fell on 9/11, and asks why the engineering community, in general, is not acting upon the significant gaps in our understanding of fire exposed by this terrible event. Using this specific engineering failure as its focus, the play engages with wider questions about the blame culture in our society, the engineering choices made between financial cost and human cost, and how engineers quantify, manage and articulate risk to the wider public.”

For more details about any aspect of the show please contact David Rush:

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