As a frequent theatre goer I was horrified by the recent ceiling collapse in London’s West End. Without warning large volumes of debris fell on the unsuspecting audience of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Apollo Theatre. As yet no cause for the collapse has been identified making it a curious incident at the Curious Incident! All joking aside the episode is rather unsettling not least because I am in possession of tickets for the show.
I am hoping that the theatre will be open for business by the time I am scheduled to be there but one wonders what effect the event will have on a crucial sector for London tourism. With the industry worth an estimated £2 billion annually there is a lot at stake and so strenuous efforts are underway to reassure the public. Safety checks are being made on all historic theatre buildings in the capital but I can imagine there will be a few audiences staring up wistfully. The ceilings in many Victorian theatres are adorned by huge chandeliers which may now seem rather threatening. The famous chandelier drop scene in Phantom of the
Opera could be seen as a little prophetic.
It has to be said that serious incidents in theatres are rare but they do happen. There is something a bit worn at the edges about the historic buildings and they must be vulnerable to structural issues and fire. I remember a few years ago I attended a production of the Diary of a Nobody starring Judy Dench and Michael Williams. During the show the set was accidentally set on fire by a candle. I think most of the audience initially thought the drama might be part of the show but when a man ran on with a fire extinguisher it became obvious that it wasn’t. I have to say that Dench and Williams ad-libbed their way through the episode brilliantly and no harm was done apart from the incinerated curtains! It certainly could have turned nasty though.
Despite visiting the theatre many times each year the fire was the only safety related incident that I can recall. I have seen people forget their lines and arrive on stage clearly inebriated. I have experienced unreasonably cold auditoriums and theatres that have resembled saunas. I have seen people walk out in disgust (Jerry Springer the Opera) and I have witnessed audiences leaving because the show was rubbish (the Witches of Eastwick) but never a structural failure.
I do hope that the Apollo theatre gets sorted and back open soon and that people are not put off buying tickets for the West End shows. The theatrical productions are huge tourist draw and special nights out for all of us. Historic buildings will always present challenges like the lack of temperature control and the paucity of toilets but ceilings don’t generally collapse and we should all be mindful of that if we are thinking of staying away.
Article by Sally Stacey