North East actor Trevor Fox was on stage when part of the ceiling of an historic London theatre collapsed on the audience, injuring more than 80 people.
Yesterday he recalled the incident – about 40 minutes into Thursday night’s performance – which prompted a full-scale emergency response and said the outcome could have been much worse.
London Ambulance Service said it treated 76 people, of whom 58 were taken to four hospitals. Seven people were said to have been seriously injured although their lives were not in danger. Nobody was killed in the collapse.
“I was on stage when it happened and we just heard a loud noise,” said Trevor, who took a leading role in the acclaimed production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the Apollo Theatre in September.
“As we would do in any show-stopping interruption, we looked at each other. This time we all thought we’d better get off the stage.
“As we were clearing the stage, it seems that was when it happened. Nobody in the cast was hurt and no-one from the theatre.
“At the time we thought it could have been so much worse.”
Trevor said that having left the stage, he turned and went back into the auditorium.
“I shouldn’t have done really but I thought, oh, people might be needing help here so I made my way back inside. It was very, very dusty and quite difficult to see.
“But as the dust settled I realised it wasn’t quite as bad as we’d feared, although obviously it was horrendous and very bad for the people involved.”
Trevor, who lives in Newcastle and started acting at a youth theatre in Wallsend, was full of praise for the theatre staff.
“I have to say, our company manager and the front-of-house manager responded so well. I can’t imagine that anywhere in the company manager’s handbook is there anything about what to do in the eventuality of the ceiling collapsing.
“The theatre staff are just young people – out-of-work actors, some of them – but they seemed to know instinctively what to do and they handled the situation brilliantly. When I got back inside the auditorium, within I’d say about five minutes, the place was completely empty.”
Trevor said he couldn’t really say how the audience had responded to the noise which caused the actors to leave the stage.
“To be honest I couldn’t really see the audience because the lights shine straight into your eyes.
“But outside everything seemed to be very well organised. It was unbelievable really. Fire engines and ambulances and police were all there within minutes.”
Police commandeered three London buses to take people with minor injuries to hospital.
Yesterday investigators began trying to establish the cause of the collapse at the Grade II-listed building on Shaftesbury Avenue which Trevor Fox described as “a lovely old theatre with very fancy architecture”.
A spokesman for Westminster City Council said an initial structural assessment had found the building itself was secure.
“We will not know the cause of the incident until the investigation is completed but we are working with the Health and Safety Executive today,” he said.
Audience members reported having heard a loud creaking which some thought at first was part of the show.
Businessman Khalil Anjarwalla, 29, said: “I was in the upper circle with my family when, about 45 minutes in, people started shouting and screaming. Within an instant the whole roof seemed to come down.
“We saw a lot of people completely covered in dust. I could hardly breathe.”
Sean Walsh, who was watching the show with his girlfriend, said they were sitting in the balcony when they first spotted a group of people below them shouting to leave the theatre immediately.
Mr Walsh, 41, said: “We were right up in the gods and a couple in the group below just said ‘Go!’
“We thought they were just leaving because maybe they were bored and my girlfriend thought maybe they had seen a mouse. But then the whole of the ceiling just came down.”
He said people in the balcony filed out of the theatre calmly but added: “It was difficult – you could hardly see the seat in front of you due to the dust.”
There were suggestions adverse weather might have been a factor with the area experiencing nearly 15% of the average monthly rainfall in one hour.
The Apollo Theatre opened in 1901 and is owned by Nimax Theatres, a company set up by Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer when they bought the building from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group in 2005. The company described the incident as “shocking and upsetting”.
It isn’t surprising the theatre was full on Thursday, with more than 700 people inside.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is an adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel and this production, by the National Theatre, has earned rave reviews.
Trevor Fox, who has also starred in Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters, has been staying with Lee Hall, Newcastle-born author of both those plays, while in London. He plans to play the part of Ed until March.
A statement from Nimax Theatres said performances of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time had been cancelled until January 4.