Up to 40 people are reported to have been injured, at least five of them seriously, after part of a balcony collapsed this evening during a performance in a London theatre.
A rescue operation is underway following the incident in the Apollo Theatre in the city's West End district.
We believe there are more than 40 walking wounded being treated at Gielgud Theatre. #London bus used to transport wounded to hospital. 1/2— Metropolitan Police | #StayHomeSaveLives (@metpoliceuk) December 19, 2013
Five people seriously injured. They have been taken to central London hospitals. Not aware of any fatalities at this early stage. 2/2— Metropolitan Police | #StayHomeSaveLives (@metpoliceuk) December 19, 2013
London Fire Brigade confirmed that eight fire engines had been sent to the scene.
Eight fire engines are attending an incident at a theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in #Soho. It's believed a balcony has collapsed. More soon.— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) December 19, 2013
The London Fire Brigade said the theatre was almost full, with ``around 700 people'' watching the performance.
A spokesman added: “It’s thought between 20 and 40 people were injured.”
Police confirmed they had been called to the theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue shortly after 8.15pm.
The ceiling at the Apollo theatre London has just collapsed onto the audience. Emergency services are on the scene. pic.twitter.com/K2kg6V34V3— Jake Pickering (@J_L_Pickering) December 19, 2013
The collapse occurred during a performance of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time.
Halfway through the first half of the performance, part of the balcony started creaking before a section of the theatre collapsed.
Audience members assumed the noise was part of the show.
Simon Usborne, a writer for the Independent newspaper, said there was a “cloud” of dust obscuring the stage after parts of masonry appeared to fall away.
He said: “There was panic, there was screaming.”
He added that there did not appear to be any sign of damage from the outside of the theatre.
Lobby filled with head injuries. pic.twitter.com/Q5Y9CDhuAG— Simon Usborne (@susborne) December 19, 2013
Rupert Street and Shaftesbury Avenue were filled with evacuated theatre-goers covered in dust, many of whom were bleeding.
People left the building crying, coughing and helping each other away.
Many theatre-goers were crying and trying to make contact with family members as some were still trapped inside the building.
One 29-year-old, who would only give his name as Ben, said: “It was about halfway through the first half of the show and there was a lot of creaking.
“We thought it was part of the scene, it was a seaside scene, but then there was a lot of crashing noise and part of the roof caved in. There was dust everywhere, everybody’s covered in dust.
“We got out fairly quickly, I think everyone was quite panicked.”
A 38-year-old said: “We were in the stalls. It’s a balcony that’s come off. Some of the structure’s come down.”
Police were on the scene within minutes and began cordoning off the theatre.
Martin Bostock, who was in the audience at the Grade II listed theatre with his family, said he suffered a head injury after he was hit by falling debris.
He told Sky News: “I was in the lower stalls with my family in the early stages of the show.
“It was just terrifying and awful.
“I think the front part of the balcony fell down.
“At first we thought it was part of the show.
“Then I got hit on the head.”
Mr Bostock confirmed he had a blood injury and needed medical treatment.
He went on: “It was complete chaos in the theatre. Absolutely terrifying and awful.
“We got out with cuts and bruises. I think most people did.”
Andrew Howard-Smith, 68, said: ``I saw the edge of the balcony come down, that's what I saw. We were on the balcony below.
“In the production you had to hold on to the rail and lean over to see what was going on, and we were doing the same.
“Everybody must have got hold of the brass rail and just pushed it over, and then the edge came off. That was the only bit that came off, just the edge. It wasn’t the whole of the balcony, just the front 2ft.”
Libby Grundy, 65, said: “There was a bang, and then a huge cloud of dust. At first I thought it was a special effect.
“I heard somebody on the stage say ’Oh bloody hell’, because they must have seen it.
“And then people realised it must be some sort of emergency and people started getting up.
People didn’t panic. People were quite shaky when they got out.
“There wasn’t any screaming. People were scared, but they weren’t screaming.
“I feel quite shaky now.”