LONDON — Hunks of plaster and dust rained down on a packed audience when the ceiling of a London theater partially collapsed Thursday night. More than 75 people were injured, seven seriously, authorities said.
The collapse at the Apollo Theatre took place around 8:15 p.m. during a performance of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” at the height of the Christmas holiday season. Plaster and masonry from a section of the ceiling tumbled down, bringing parts of the theater’s balconies down with it onto the audience, police said.
More than 700 people were in the theater, a four-story Edwardian building with three interior balconies, according to the London Fire Brigade.
Officials said most of the injured were “walking wounded” with upper-body injuries, and were conscious.
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Police and fire officials said it was too soon to say what had caused the partial collapse of the ceiling at the theater, which opened in 1901.
Dee Stephenson said she was seated near the stage and heard the main actor shout “watch out!”
“Then you could feel the debris literally coming down on you, and then I got hit on the back by a large piece,” she said. “It was a complete dust curtain. You couldn’t see.”
Scott Daniels, an American from the Dallas area, said he’d managed to buy a last-minute ticket to the acclaimed production just before show time.
“I was lucky to get one seat that they had left over,” he said. About 40 or 45 minutes into the show, he said, he started hearing noises — and screaming.
“I thought, maybe this is part of the play,” he said. “All of a sudden, plaster starts raining down, huge hunks of plaster … The lights went out and everything filled with dust — everybody was coughing and choking.”
He said he made it out with “a couple scrapes,” though he saw others with more serious lacerations.
Dust-covered theatergoers, many with bandaged heads, were treated by dozens of emergency workers in the street outside the Apollo and in the foyer of the neighboring Gielgud Theatre.
City buses were commandeered to take some of the wounded to hospitals.
Injuries ranged from head wounds to cuts and scrapes to breathing problems.
Initially, London Ambulance Service said more than 80 people had been injured. But noting that the initial situation was confusing, it later adjusted that number to say it had treated 76 patients, 58 of whom were taken to hospitals.
Of those, 51 had suffered minor injuries and seven had suffered “more serious injuries.” There were no deaths, and none of the injuries are believed to be life-threatening, officials added.
Fire-department officials said no one was trapped in the theater.
Chief Superintendent Paul Rickett said that “so far, we know that a number of items of masonry have fallen down from the ceiling. There is no suggestion at this stage that this was as a result of a criminal act.”
Shaftesbury Avenue, normally one of London’s busiest streets and teeming with pedestrians, was completely shut down by emergency workers.
The show, which is aimed at young people as well as adults, is about a boy with Asperger’s syndrome who sets out to solve a crime.
London Mayor Boris Johnson thanked emergency-services workers for their “incredible response in very difficult conditions.”
Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, described the incident as “shocking and upsetting” and said an investigation into what caused the ceiling collapse is under way.
The Apollo was one of the first theaters built in the Edwardian period and opened on Feb. 21, 1901, with an American musical comedy called “The Belle of Bohemia.” It has one of the steepest gallery systems, with three cantilevered balconies, of any London theater, with spectators who fear heights warned not to sit in the highest balcony.