LONDON — Dozens of people in Britain were injured, seven of them seriously, when the ceiling or part of the balcony collapsed at a theater in London's West End during the busy holiday season.
The incident occurred about 8:15 p.m., less than an hour into the acclaimed production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, near Piccadilly Circus.
The London Ambulance Service said in a statement that it treated more than 75 people with minor injuries. The injuries to those who were seriously hurt were not considered life-threatening, officials said.
Police said they were not aware of any fatalities.
Chief Supt. Paul Rickett of Scotland Yard emphasized that efforts to determine what caused the collapse were in their early stages, but that "there is no evidence that this happened as a result of a criminal act."
London Fire Brigade's Graham Ellis said "heavy ornate plastering" came down from the ceiling of the Apollo.
Some witnesses told British news media of hearing loud cracking noises before masonry and other debris started falling onto the audience. Others said the actors onstage looked out at the crowd in the theater in horror before large clouds of dust filled the air.
A theatergoer who gave his first name as Henry told Sky News that "it was one of those surreal moments."
"To begin with, you think it's part of the show, and then people start climbing over you," he said.
His companion, Michelle, said people sitting in rows farther down began scrambling for the exits before she understood what was happening.
"They were moving a long time before we realized there was a problem.... And then it just became apparent there was a serious problem," she said. "It was just bizarre. I've never seen anything like it."
Within an hour of the collapse, police reported that the theater had been completely evacuated.
The accident occurred on a night of some heavy rain, lightning and thunder. But authorities said they could not yet identify the cause of the collapse. They are waiting for inspectors to assess the state of the building.
Police blocked off Shaftesbury Avenue as onlookers congregated in Piccadilly Circus, one of central London's most popular gathering spots known for its famous neon signs and statue of the love god Eros.
The Apollo, which opened in 1901, is a prestigious venue that seats nearly 800 people. The current play, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," which premiered at the National Theatre across the Thames, has received critical raves for its realistic depiction of a boy with autism. It is based on a bestselling novel by Mark Haddon.
The Christmas season is one of the busiest times of year for London's famed theater district. Tickets routinely top $100 at the most popular shows, such as the award-winning musicals "The Book of Mormon" and "Wicked."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun