Safety checks at London's historic theatres after ceiling collapse

Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:53pm EST
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By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - Historic theatres in London's West End were undergoing checks on Friday after the ceiling of one collapsed, injuring dozens and raising fears about safety at some of the world's oldest and most elegant playhouses.

Up to 90 people were injured, seven seriously, after a section of ornate plaster ceiling measuring about 10 meters (33 feet) by 10 meters fell onto the audience at the 112-year-old Apollo Theatre during an evening performance on Thursday.

Some of the 720-strong audience watching the popular play "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" told Reuters of panic and screams as the ceiling collapsed, filling the theatre with dust as they rushed for the exits.

It was the worst accident in London's main theatre district in 40 years, since part of a ceiling at the Shaftesbury Theatre fell in 1973, forcing the closure of the long-running musical "Hair". The Shaftesbury opened in 1911.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said investigations into the cause of the ceiling collapse at the Apollo were continuing. Westminster City Council and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) had assured him that safety checks were up-to-date at all the West End's 30 or so theatres.

"But, as a precaution, further checks have already started and will continue throughout the day," Johnson said.

Some of the theatres date back to the 19th century and feature plush red velvet seating, ornate plaster ceilings, massive chandeliers and royal boxes.

A spokesman for SOLT said all major theatre owners met on Friday and confirmed their safety inspections and certificates were current, adding that such incidents were extremely rare.   Continued...

The stage door light is seen at the back of the Apollo theatre on the morning after part of it's ceiling collapsed on spectators as they watched a performance, in central London, December 20, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett