The collapse of the Apollo Theater ceiling left theatergoers scared and injured. At around 8:15 Thursday night, the ceiling of London’s Apollo theater partially collapsed during a performance of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime” with more than 700 viewers present. Of the 700, more than 80 were hurt with injuries ranging from a few scrapes to severe lacerations, head wounds, and breathing problems brought on by thick dust. Casualties came mostly from what was described as falling chunks of wooden rafters and pieces of ceiling plaster. Nearly the entire audience was covered in black and gray dust from the innards of the 112 year old building, with many covered in blood as well. While there was a heavy storm that dropped severe rain on the theater about an hour before the incident, it is not thought to have contributed to the collapse.
Many witnesses report hearing shouts and warnings scattered throughout the seats, but many thought they were part of the show. One theater patron saw an actor stop and turn on stage, shouting “Watch out!” as debris began to rain onto the crowd, but no one was fast enough to put the warning to use. Once the collapse had started, play goers were instantly showered in debris large and small, as well as thick dust. The entire seating area became a blinding haze, making it difficult for patrons to escape. Some were left trapped under pieces that had fallen, or were incapacitated by the nature of their injuries. Once most of the people had managed to evacuate, emergency services were quick to respond, with more than two dozen ambulances and eight fire trucks carrying manned by 60 rescue personnel offering aid to the stunned victims trickling out of the theater.
Dozens of walking wounded were assessed in the lobby of the theater, with those needing hospital treatment sent on commandeered double decker buses from another venue just down the street. While often busy with Londoners looking for entertainment and dinner, Shaftesbury Avenue in the West End District was completely shut down, illuminated by flashing emergency lights rather than the usual soft street lights. Nick Harding of the London Fire Brigade reported that a ten foot section of ornate plaster ceiling detached from the structure of the building and fell into the audience in several pieces. Some of the larger pieces knocked parts of the upper seating balcony into the lower levels, causing additional injuries and confusion. No fatalities were reported and everyone that was inside made it out. There is no report on what may have caused the collapse this early in the game.
Despite the large number of people involved, it is hard to get a clear picture of what happened; all that can be confirmed is loud groaning and cracking sounds immediately followed by thick dust and falling debris. Outside the theater, workers at other nearby businesses saw people covered with dust running down the street or milling about before being helped. All that is known for sure is that pieces of masonry fell from the ceiling, and while authorities are reluctant to say a criminal action caused the collapse, they are keeping an open mind.
By Daniel O’Brien