Apart From That, How Was The Show?

Christopher Fowler
london-apollo-theatre-collapse-2   It was the Curious Incident of the Ceiling in the Evening Performance, when a bit of it fell on the heads of the audience in the balcony of the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue - but it was reported by even usually staid sources as an apocalyptic nightmare. Although quite a few people suffered injuries, no-one could decide on the numbers - was it 50, 60 or 75? As the timeline rolled out,
the accident became less spectacular than the 35 ambulance crews made it look, although one photograph of plaster and lathe rubble appeared pretty lethal-looking to me. The theatre, which opened in 1901 and is a Grade II listed building, seats 755 on four levels and the balcony on the third tier is
the steepest in London. The collapse happened an hour after the city was hit by a massive thunderstorm, although it's not yet clear if this helped to trigger the fall. One problem is that the show is full of very loud electronic noises, which masked the advance sound of the ceiling cracking. Many shows now are filled with absurdly spectacular events, and you do wonder if the interior of a century-old theatre should constantly be subjected to deafening reverberations, when they were built to be used without amplified sound. Weirdly, the event made me quite nostalgic. When I was a kid my bedroom ceiling fell down and nearly brained me. This sort of thing used to happen all over London for decades after the war, because invisible stress damage had occurred to buildings. In fact, stress damage was the most cited excuse for tearing down perfectly good old buildings when property developers wanted to make a buck. Of course, many theatres haven't changed at all since then. The accident might finally get notoriously greedy theatre owners to take a fresh look at their interiors now, instead of just sitting back and raking in money. But there is a lesson in this; don't go for the cheap seats.
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Alison (not verified) Fri, 20/12/2013 - 09:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

When I loved in London back in the day I used to work at the Apollo. It was always shabby but I don't think bits of it ever fell off.

Christopher Fowler Fri, 20/12/2013 - 09:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think you meant to type 'lived' Alison, but I like the alteration better!

Leigh (not verified) Fri, 20/12/2013 - 10:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The headline actually made me laugh out loud. Well played sir.

pheeny (not verified) Fri, 20/12/2013 - 10:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Interestingly I read that someone in row A got worried about the creaking noises and left, followed by others, just before it came down.
Quite brave to do that I thought, as even in the face of potential danger most people would rather risk death than deviate from the herd

Christopher Fowler Fri, 20/12/2013 - 11:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You'll note I avoided any references to bringing the house down.

Vivienne (not verified) Fri, 20/12/2013 - 14:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Was in Piccadilly last night watching all the ambulances, fire engines and police cars desperately struggling to get through the traffic - have to say I feared bombs.

Not long after moving in (long ago) a bit of the cornice of my Victorian house fell down onto the bed where my baby daughter had just been sleeping. It's heavy stuff. Needless to say, the rest was dealt with pretty quickly.

Dan Terrell (not verified) Fri, 20/12/2013 - 14:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Having the ceiling fall on you is no fun.
Once in Afghanistan after a weekend day's skiing, I was soaking out the aches with a drink, a pipe, and a book, when the ceiling came down on me sealing me in the bathtub.
The bathroom ceiling was directly below the 55-gallon barrel holding the house's elevated water supply. The water in the barrel had frozen - Kabul is a very cold place in winter - and all the recently pumped water had spilled over the ice in the containment barrel, saturated the mud brick ceiling, and gravity just did the rest. Took me a half hour or so to scoop myself out of the clinging, cold stuff and hobble to the kitchen to clean up and call the house boy in (who had trouble standing up for laughing)to help muck out the bathroom. What a gritty brown mess, even the basin and my toothbrush were loaded with mud, toilet, too.
Glad you weren't in the theater! That would have been a lousy end to a really great day.
"And then in 2013, we nearly lost Admin in a sudden sea of theater seats."

Steve (not verified) Fri, 20/12/2013 - 19:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, the headlines were screaming "Panic in the Theatre!" or some such.
In the Seattle area we had a dusting of snow last night, and you would have thought it was the Apocalypse. Exaggeration seems to be the rule of the day. Surprisingly, nobody has invented the word "Snowpocalypse" yet. Oh, wait....I just did.

Helen Martin (not verified) Sat, 21/12/2013 - 01:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad to get some eyewitness reporting on this event to clarify the rather wild reports we had last night.
Does everyone have a collapsing ceiling story? I had expressed concern about the droop in the bathroom ceiling caused by a roof leak. My husband said he would see to it when he got back from Prince George - hard to get anyone on the weekend. On Saturday the ceiling collapsed into my lap while I sat on the john. No serious damage but more than a bit startling. I had enough time to get rid of my anger before Ken got home on Sunday afternoon. I can still see the seam where he replaced the ceiling panel.

Alison (not verified) Mon, 23/12/2013 - 15:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sometimes, admin, the simplest typos are the best (and most revealing)...