Apollo incident ‘has had no impact on West End audiences’

The Apollo Theatre in the West End after the accident. Photo: Ryan Forde Iosco.
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The widely reported ceiling collapse at the Apollo Theatre before Christmas has not had an adverse effect on West End audiences more generally, producers have said.

The Gielgud Theatre and Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, which were both used as makeshift hospitals for those injured in the incident, have confirmed that they have not experienced any drop in audiences.

Shows at other historic London theatres – such as Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage at the Piccadilly and The Bodyguard Musical at the Adelphi – have also reported no negative impact from the event in terms of audience numbers over the Christmas period.

The Bodyguard producer Michael Harrison said he was initially concerned about the effect on attendances following the incident, in which nearly 60 people were taken to hospital. The episode was reported widely around the UK and internationally.

He said: “When I heard about the Apollo I said, ‘That’s it, we’re going to see some damage here’. But we’ve had a better [Christmas] period this year than we did last year – and that was when we were in our honeymoon period.”

Harrison added that advance bookings over the Christmas had also not been affected and that The Bodyguard had in fact had its most successful period to date, during the week closing January 5.

He added: “There was nothing I saw in the Bodyguard figures that suggested a negative impact. What we took at the box office on Friday, December 20, the day after the accident, was just under £100,000. So it was a terrific day. It didn’t put them off.”

Karl Sydow, producer of Dirty Dancing in the West End, also said its audience numbers had remained steady.

He said: “Dirty Dancing experienced the usual holiday sales pattern, which meant full houses over the Christmas and new year period and no evidence of any concern from our audience for falling plaster. The singing, cheers and dancing in the aisles was as raucous as ever.”

Last week the Apollo Theatre confirmed it would be closed for a further week until after January 11. Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, declined to comment on why the venue had extended its closure period. Performances of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time were expected to recommence on January 13.

However, the National Theatre has just announced that Curious Incident  – which was booking at the Apollo until October 25 – will now transfer to the Gielgud instead. It will run from June 24, with opening night on July 8.

Westminster City Council is conducting an investigation into the cause of the collapse. While results from this investigation were initially expected early in the new year, the council has now said it could take months to complete.

However, the local authority confirmed the venue could open before the investigation has finished, on the condition that the council is satisfied the theatre has made its ceiling safe.

Leith Penny, Westminster City Council strategic director of city management, said: “Such investigations can take months to complete but we still have no reason to believe this was anything other than an isolated incident. This week, a scaffolding tower will be erected inside the theatre, allowing experts to inspect the ceiling more closely.”

The ceiling collapse, which took place on December 19 at around 8.15pm during a performance of Curious Incident, resulted in 79 audience members being injured.

Of these, 56 were taken to hospital with nine people suffering more serious impairments, which included head and back injuries.

Temporary treatment areas set up in the foyers in the nearby Queen’s and Gielgud theatres were initially used by emergency medical staff to attend to those with injuries such as cuts, grazes, breathing problems and head injuries.

William Differ, operations director at Delfont Mackintosh Theatres – which owns both venues – said the company had already signed up to an emergency protocol in which the buildings can be used in such circumstances.

He said that during the intervals of the shows at the Queen’s and the Gielgud, audience members were kept in the auditorium and bars. At the end of the performances they left by the side exits so as to avoid the foyers.

“The interval happened at the Gielgud first, and due to the design of the foyer you can see up into the circle bar and obviously down into the foyer, which by this time was full of people being treated, some on stretchers and having oxygen, others with bandages and foil blankets who were clearly in shock,” said Differ.

He added: “It was an unusual sight and witnessed by Lee Menzies [a producer], who was at the show, from the circle bar. He called me the next day to say how impressed he was with the professionalism of our staff who were assisting in a calm and empathetic way with the injured.”