Blog: Piccadilly Theatre ceiling collapse shows importance of front of house staff

While safety standards undoubtedly need to be reviewed, we should all commend the quick reactions of those involved

Sharon D Clarke in Death of a Salesman
Sharon D Clarke in Death of a Salesman
© Brinkhoff Mogenburg

This week's shocking collapse of a section of ceiling in the Piccadilly Theatre has once again thrown an unwelcome spotlight on the state of our historic theatres. But it also highlighted some more positive sides of the industry, not least the invaluable role played by front of house staff.

The incident, which was eerily reminiscent of the larger 2013 Apollo Theatre ceiling collapse, occurred during a performance of Death of a Salesman, which has only just celebrated its West End transfer from the Young Vic. Audience members reported hearing "dripping sounds" coming from the ceiling above the balcony, before a section broke away. Five people were treated at the scene and four subsequently taken to hospital.

The reaction of the front of house staff was admirable both for its swiftness and cool-headedness. As eyewitness Lowri Jenkins told The Stage: "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."

The front of house team managed to escort 1,000 theatregoers out of the building as the performance was suddenly cancelled. Such an operation is no mean feat, especially in light of the fact many punters were understandably in a state of panic.

Anyone who has worked front of house knows how stressful interactions with the public can be, even at the best of times. Needless to say the events at the Piccadilly were far from those, and everyone who oversaw the evacuation should be commended in the highest terms.

It was also notable how well the Young Vic and its associate producers responded to the situation, quickly arranging a series of stripped-back performances at venue on The Cut while the Piccadilly is repaired, and refunding disappointed audience members. Meanwhile the production's US star Wendell Pierce showed great poise and spirit, speaking out to apologise to the affected audience members whilst reassuring those yet to come that "the show will go on".

Moments of trial often show people at their best, and such has been the case this week. Let's just hope that lessons are learned and vital restoration work undertaken to ensure no one need be tested in this way again.