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 theater
with dust as they rushed for the exits.
It was the worst accident in London's main theater 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 theaters.
"But, as a precaution, further checks have already started and
will continue throughout the day," Johnson said.
Some of the theaters 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 theater owners met on Friday
and confirmed their safety inspections and certificates were
current, adding that such incidents were extremely rare.
"(They) will co-operate fully with the authorities to reassure
the public that their theaters are safe," the spokesman said in
While the Apollo — situated in Shaftesbury Avenue, in the heart
of the West End — will be closed this weekend, all other London
theaters remain open for business.
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London's West End is one of the world's largest and
most prestigious theater districts, rivaling New York's Broadway and
entertaining over 32,000 people in central London every night,
including many tourists. Annual attendances total 14 million.
SOLT estimates the 52 major theaters across London
and countless smaller venues account for about 41,000 jobs in the
capital, bringing in 2 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) a year.
But with many auditoriums aging, the industry has called repeatedly
over the past decade for public investment to bring them up-to-date.
A 2003 report by the Theatres Trust called for 250 million pounds to
be ploughed into the venues.
"It got quite close to the government funding them and then the
(2012 London) Olympics happened and the money went away," Alistair
Smith, deputy editor of industry newspaper The Stage, told Reuters.
"The theater industry has been aware of the need for some kind of
public funding for theaters, not necessarily for safety reasons but
to ensure these historic buildings are still around for another
century or so."
(Editing by Catherine Evans)
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