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Ceilings in London Theaters Keep Falling Down

LONDON — Earlier this month, theatergoers watching “Death of a Salesman” in the grand circle of London’s Piccadilly Theater had a shock.

As soon as the play started on Nov. 6, “a dripping sound” could be heard, said Lucy Cartwright, 32, an occupational therapist who was in the audience that night with her boyfriend.

“It was getting louder and more frequent,” she recalled, on a return visit to the theater last week. When she looked up, about 20 minutes in, she saw a foot-long crack had appeared in the ceiling. And it was getting bigger.

“About 30 seconds later, the whole thing just went, ‘Phwom!’” Ms. Cartwright said, mimicking the sound of a slab of plasterboard crashing down.

Five people were lightly injured in the incident, which left a hole in the ceiling. Ushers quickly evacuated the theater, and the American actor Wendell Pierce, the play’s star, went outside to check on everyone. “Turn to your loved ones and friends, left and right, and say, ‘Which pub are we going to?’” he said. “Let’s go there and have a memorable night in anticipation of coming back.”

The plasterboard fell as a result of a “localized water leak,” the Ambassadors Theater Group, the building’s owners, said in a statement. A spokeswoman declined to answer questions about how it happened, but said that an investigation was ongoing, and noted that the building, originally opened in 1928, was undergoing a multimillion pound refurbishment.

The theater reopened on Nov. 15 with the ceiling repaired, and producers and theater owners in the West End quickly moved on, calling what had happened an unfortunate accident that could befall any building in Britain, especially one so old.

Mr. Mackintosh, 73, said the job had included securing many pieces of elaborate plaster decoration in place with wire. He commissioned the work in January, after receiving a report from engineers that read “‘Don’t panic, but we reckon within two years you do all the ceilings of your Edwardian theaters,’” he said.

In the grand circle of the Piccadilly Theater during a recent performance of “Death of a Salesman,” no one seemed worried about the repaired ceiling. Keijo Nieminen, 31, a construction engineer from Finland, said he wasn’t concerned. “In Finland, we’ve had some similar issues,” he said. Sometimes roofs there collapse there because of heavy snowfall. “I trust British engineers,” he added.

Anne-Lorraine Imbert, 28, an investment manager, sat in row J — directly below where the plasterboard had fallen. She wasn’t concerned either, she said. “It’s much less dangerous than traveling on the tube, cycling, anything,” she said.

In any case, perishing in an ornate theater would be “so much more joyful” than dying elsewhere, she said.

Several audience members had actually been in the audience on the night of the collapse, and had been given free tickets so they could finish watching the show. Ms. Cartwright, the occupational therapist, was one of them, there again with her boyfriend. “We’re braving it,” she said, with a laugh.

At several points during the play, Ms. Cartwright pulled her boyfriend, Adam Edwards, close, as if for protection. Afterward, she laughed when asked if in those moments she had been worried about the ceiling.

“It wasn’t a ‘brace, brace’ move, no,” she said. She had just been overwhelmed by the play.