Almost 90 hurt as ceiling collapses at London theatre

Almost 90 hurt as ceiling collapses at London theatre

By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Emergency services said nearly 90 people were injured on Thursday when part of the ceiling collapsed during a performance at a packed London theatre, bringing the city's West End entertainment district to a standstill.
The audience was showered with masonry and debris following the incident at the Apollo Theatre, where about 720 people including many families were watching the hugely popular play "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time".
Emergency services said 88 people were injured. They described 81 as "walking wounded", many with head injuries, while seven others were taken to hospital with more serious injuries.
Nick Harding from London Fire Brigade said a section of ornate plaster ceiling, measuring about 10 meters (33 feet) by 10 meters, had fallen onto the audience watching the evening show.
"The ceiling took parts of the balconies down with it," he said. "Everyone is out of the building and everyone is safe," he added, confirming there had been no fatalities.
He said it was too early to speculate about the cause but police said there was no suggestion that it was the result of any deliberate act or attack.
There was no indication either that heavy storms earlier in the evening were to blame and investigations would continue through the night, Harding said.
Witnesses said they saw the ceiling in the four-storey auditorium suddenly collapse during the performance, creating panic when those inside realized it was not part of the play.
"We saw the ceiling give way and it just dropped down onto the stalls. There was dust everywhere and people were screaming," Steve George, 29, who was sitting in seats at the top of the theatre, told Reuters.
"I have no idea how many people would have been injured," added George, a cinema manager who had taken his wife Hannah to the show for a birthday treat.
"It became like a black mist with people walking over me," added Michelle Chew, another member of the audience.
Emergency vehicles blocked off Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of London's theatreland, packed with revelers on one of the busiest nights of the year in the week before Christmas.
"People were running in here with dust all over themselves," said Thomas Asihen, manager of the McDonald's restaurant located on the same block.
He said people were being brought out by paramedics shrouded in plastic blankets, with some carried out on stretchers.
Those injured inside the Apollo, which first opened its doors in February 1901, were taken to the nearby Gielgud Theatre while a bus was being used to transport those needing hospital treatment.
"In my time as a fire officer I've never seen an incident like this. I imagine lots of people were out enjoying the show in the run-up to Christmas," Harding said.

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not surprised. Damn Brits couldn't maintain a building to keep it from falling apart to save their lives.
81 people have been injured, plus another eight seriously injured, after a ceiling collapsed in the Apollo Theatre on London's famous Shaftesbury Avenue.

The Apollo is one of six theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, which is considered to be the heart of London's West End theatre district (Shaftesbury Avenue was also the birthplace of Cat Stevens). London's Theatreland is, of course, busy at this time of year

It is thought that ornate plasterwork, including a rose, on the ceiling collapsed as around 720 theatre-goers watched The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time.

Many of the injured, including walking wounded and those on stretchers, were taken to the University College Hospital. Some were even taken there on bus and others were treated in the nearby Gielgud Theatre and Queen's Theatre.

A spokesman for St Thomas' Hospital said 34 adults and five children had also been treated there after the incident.

The Apollo was opened in 1901 and the balcony on its third tier is considered to be the steepest in London. It is one of four London theatres now owned by Nimax Theatres, all of which were owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Safety at London's old theatres has been a concern over the last twenty years. Ten years ago money was to be ploughed in to renovate them, until it was diverted into the London Olympic Games.

There are 120 theatres in London, compared to 85 in New York City, which is a similar sized city.

Inside the debris-strewn Apollo: Shocking pictures reveal scale of damage to West End theatre after 88 people were injured when ceiling collapsed during packed performance

Police called to Grade II listed theatre in London's West End at 8.15 last night following ceiling collapse

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time was being performed in front of a packed auditorium

Part of the balcony started creaking before section of theatre collapsed, falling on theatregoers and injuring them

Theatre-goers left crying and bleeding - and some 88 people are injured, seven seriously

The accident happened just over an hour after London was hit by freak thunderstorm

'I'm grateful for fast work of emergency services in helping injured,' Prime Minister says via Twitter

By Mark Duell and Damien Gayle and Hugo Gye
19 December 2013
Daily Mail

Images of the damage done by the ceiling collapse at a major West End theatre emerged today as an investigation opened into the accident which left dozens of theatregoers injured.

Police said seven people were seriously injured and there were 81 walking wounded following the incident which happened at about 8.15pm inside the packed 112-year-old Apollo Theatre in London.

Masonry from the Grade II-listed theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue plummeted into the stalls below, striking members of the 720-strong audience and filling the theatre with clouds of thick dust.

Photographs showed how the seats below the area of the collapse were coated in dust with masonry strewn around the auditorium.

Debris: The scene inside the Apollo Theatre in the wake of the accident last night which left dozens of people injured during a performance

Danger: This picture up into the balcony shows how lights were left dangling from the edge following the collapse

Wide view: Witnesses described the air so thick with dust that it was dark inside the theatre

Getting out: The audience rushed to the exit were paramedics were waiting within a few minutes

Theatre: The three-galleried auditorium, which seats 796, is decorated with elaborate plasterwork and the balcony on its third tier is considered the steepest in London (file picture). It is the elaborate plasterwork seen on the ceiling in this picture which is thought to have collapsed

A capacity audience was inside the theatre, which was 45 minutes into the National Theatre's performance of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time.

Audience members then started screaming as parts of the ceiling appeared to cave in, with some eyewitnesses hearing a loud ‘creaking’ which some initially thought was part of the show.

It happened just over an hour after London was hit by a freak thunderstorm at about 7pm that saw a torrential downpour over the city, but it was not immediately clear if that was related to the collapse.

Two nearby theatres, the Queen's Theatre where Les Miserables is currently being shown and the Gielgud, had their lobbies transformed into makeshift triage centres for treating the wounded.

Several of those involved with the production took to Twitter to express sadness at the accident and thank those who helped during the crisis.

Aerial: This image shows the roof of the theatre this morning, in the aftermath of the dangerous incident

Sudden: The audience was forced to evacuate midway through a performance

Fleet: Shaftesbury Avenue was lined with ambulances and other emergency vehicle

Novelist Mark Haddon, author of the book on which the play is based, wrote: 'It's been horrifying sitting here watching what has been happening at the Apollo this evening. I'm hugely relieved that no-one has died.

'I hope that those who were seriously injured are okay. I'm sorry, too, that so many people went through such a terrifying experience.'

Director Simon Stephens tweeted: 'Thank you for your messages on this sad and strange night.'

Mayor of London Boris Johnson added last night: 'Thank you to everyone involved in the emergency operation at the Apollo theatre tonight - incredible response in very difficult conditions.'

Performances of the play scheduled for tonight and tomorrow have been cancelled, with ticket-holders offered a refund or tickets to another West End show.

Inside the theatre: Following the chaos, two dozen ambulances were sent to treat the injured as audience members rushed to the exits

Inside: Pictures of panicked audience members in the immediate aftermath of the disaster which took place yesterday evening

Aftermath: The scene outside the theatre this morning as firemen continued their investigation

Rushed away: A man is wheeled out of a theatre used as a makeshift treatment centre for the theatre

Helping hand: A bandaged man comforts a woman following the collapse at the Apollo Theatre

Casualties: Injured people are seen on a bus near the scene of a collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London

A spokesman for St Thomas' Hospital said 34 adults and five children had been treated after the incident.

She said: 'We admitted two adult patients for overnight care. Both are stable. The remaining 37 were discharged throughout the night.

'The majority of patients had cuts and bruises, and a small number had fractures. We have had a fantastic response from staff - both already on-site and those who came in from home to help.'

Theatre-goer Khalil Anjarwalla said he, his heavily pregnant wife and her parents managed to escape from the theatre safely after ‘kilos of concrete plummeted from the ceiling’.

Business owner Mr Anjarwalla said: ‘I was in the upper circle with my family when, about 45 minutes in, people started shouting and screaming. We thought it was part of the play.

‘But the ceiling was crumbling. Within an instant the whole roof seemed to come down. We saw a lot of people completely covered in dust - I could hardly breathe.

‘We had to get out, calmly. I remember thinking the cloud, the dust - it reminded me of those scenes from 9/11 in the aftermath of the building collapsing.’

The 29-year-old, who is from Nairobi in Kenya, said: ‘I was very close to the Westgate Mall which was the scene of the recent terror attack.

‘So my first thought was instantly to check whether we should be ducking for safety. We then realised it was a structural issue and tried to get out.’

Running to help: One man, who was in the audience at the Grade II listed theatre with his family, said he suffered a head injury after he was hit by falling debris

Injuries: A woman stands bandaged and wearing a blanket from the emergency services in Central London

Keeping warm: A man wraps himself in an emergency blanket provided by rescue services after the incident

Makeshift ambulance: Shocked and injured theatregoers are transported to hospital in a commandeered London bus

Rescue effort: Emergency services attending the scene at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue

Getting away from the scene: Injured people sit wrapped in emergency blankets sit on a London bus

Mr Anjarwalla, who was visiting his in-laws with his English wife, Aliya, said: ‘The actors just seemed to run from the stage. They had obviously seen what had happened.

‘We initially thought it was part of the show. Thankfully we are all OK. My wife is seven months pregnant but she is OK. We feel very blessed.’ He said some people seemed to be ‘cut quite badly’.

Police said a London bus was used to take the casualties to hospital, while members of the public were asked to avoid the area.

Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to rescue crews, writing on Twitter: 'I've been updated regularly on the Apollo incident. I'm grateful for the fast work of the emergency services in helping the injured.'

On the roof: Emergency services attending the scene at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue

Aid: Paramedics attend to an injured person at the scene at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue

Discussions: Rescue services at the scene of an apparent balcony collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London

Rally round: Firemen confer at the scene after the incident at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue

Emergency response: The London Fire Brigade said the theatre was almost full, with 'around 700 people' watching the performance

On location: Walking wounded were taken from the scene in ambulances as a team of firefighters rushed through the front stage door in Archer Street

The cast of the play includes the likes of Jo Dockery, sister of Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery, former EastEnders actress Amanda Drew and Trevor Fox from 2000 film Billy Elliot

Emergency services were called to the scene shortly after 8.15pm, as eyewitnesses reported many theatre-goers crying and trying to make contact with family members as some were initially thought to be trapped inside the building.

Jess Bowie, content editor of The House magazine, tweeted: ‘Was just seeing 'The Curious Incident' in the West End when the roof of the Apollo Theatre caved in. Absolutely petrifying.

‘Don't know if anyone is trapped in there but people outside are covered in dust and some in blood. Utterly horrible.’

Andrew Howard-Smith, 68, said: ‘I saw the edge of the balcony come down, that's what I saw. We were on the balcony below.

‘In the production you had to hold on to the rail and lean over to see what was going on, and we were doing the same.

‘Everybody must have got hold of the brass rail and just pushed it over, and then the edge came off. That was the only bit that came off, just the edge. It wasn't the whole of the balcony, just the front 2ft.’

Libby Grundy, 65, said: ‘There was a bang, and then a huge cloud of dust. At first I thought it was a special effect.

‘I heard somebody on the stage say “Oh bloody hell”, because they must have seen it.

‘And then people realised it must be some sort of emergency and people started getting up. People didn't panic. People were quite shaky when they got out.

‘There wasn't any screaming. People were scared, but they weren't screaming. I feel quite shaky now.’


The first London theatre of the Edwardian era, the doors of the Apollo Theatre first opened on February 21, 1901, for the American musical comedy The Belle Of Bohemia.

The three-galleried auditorium, which seats 796, is decorated with elaborate plasterwork and the balcony on its third tier is considered the steepest in London.

Designed by architect Lewin Sharp, the building boasts elaborate sculpted work on the stone fascia to the front. To neighbouring streets the building is of plain brick.

It is one of four London playhouses owned by Nimax Theatres, a group owned and operated by Nica Burns and Weitzenhoffer. Others include the Garrick Theatre, the Duchess Theatre and the Lyric Theatre.

All were previously owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Read more: London's Apollo Theatre balcony collapse during performance | Mail Online
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Last edited by Blackleaf; Dec 20th, 2013 at 07:51 AM..