Eyewitnesses have described the “terrifying” moment the ceiling fell in during a performance of Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre.
The audience members said fellow theatregoers were “screaming” as they tried to flee the West End venue.
Lowri Jenkins was sat in the grand circle – where the incident occurred about 20 minutes into the performance at around 8pm.
She reported hearing a “clicking sound more or less as soon as the lights went down”.
She described it as a “constant drip”, with some audiences then moving because they were getting dripped on.
“We were looking right at it and you could see a darkening in the ceiling – people were starting to murmur and ask what it was. A couple of people moved out of the way as they were getting dripped on. Suddenly the puddle quadrupled in size and a crack appeared in the ceiling,” she said, adding: “Then the ceiling started to fall in and people jumped out of the way and started running for the doors.”
She praised the front of house staff for acting swiftly, particularly as they got people out of the venue before a fire alarm was activated.
“The people who were ushers did a fantastic job, they really did. I can’t imagine it was in their training but they kept calm and did a really good job at evacuating people from the building,” she said.
Kieran Dunn, who was watching the show in the stalls, said the incident happened about 20 minutes into the production. He said it looked as if the plaster of the ceiling above the grand circle had come down.
Dunn explained that it happened during a dramatic scene in the play, and described hearing what sounded like “applause, or a sound effect”, which then became a “slow rumble and crackling”.
He said it was then people in the grand circle started “moving forward” and screaming.
“There was a bit of a panic – you heard chairs flipping up before you saw anything else and that caused some of the panic. Then people started streaming towards the front of the tier,” he told The Stage.
Dunn said the actors retreated to the back of the stage and the house lights came up, with ushers asking people to leave the theatre.
Dunn said the emergency services arrived within five minutes and that he saw people “covered in soot”.
He said he initially felt scared.
“We started hearing screams and you start to think it could be a terrorist attack,” he said.
The theatregoer said the front-of-house staff responded quickly following the incident, but said no official announcement was made and the fire alarms were only activated once people had already started to leave.
Meanwhile, Laura Kate Jones, who was also in the audience, said on Twitter that the ceiling “fell in” 20 minutes into the show.
“People were running and screaming to get out – truly terrifying,” she said.
The Metropolitan Police said several people had suffered minor injuries as a result of the incident.