It’s easy to make comparisons between a ceiling collapse in a historic building especially when they both occur in a theatre during a performance, but the collapse at the Piccadilly Theatre in November and the Apollo theatre in 2013 are markedly different.
The failure of the fibrous ceiling at the Apollo Theatre galvanised the theatre owners and managers to look again the condition of all the ceilings and worked with the FIS Heritage and Fibrous Plastering Working Group to develop methodologies to carry out structured inspections and reports following robust competency checks.
It appears that ‘The Piccadilly Theatre incident was caused by a sudden very large influx of water from ventilation contractors working on the exterior roof in the morning’, according to Mark White, Communications and Publication Committee Chairman of the Association of British Theatre Technicians. He added ‘This water flooded the inside of the building, running down the stairs etc and the staff embarked on a massive cleanup operation to get the theatre more or less dry to admit the public that evening to a very popular show. They did not realise that some of the water had escaped into the ceiling void as none was visible during the day. Audience members reported the drips starting just before the show and the plasterboard came in about 40 minutes after curtain up.’
FIS Heritage and Fibrous Plastering Working Group Chair Jon Riley added: ‘Whilst not knowing anything about this particular theatre or ceiling, it does underline the importance of the recent Historic England Guidance, endorsed by FIS, ABTT, Theatres Trust, Historic Environment Scotland, Department of Communities & Cadw. A copy of this can be found on https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/technical-advice/buildings/inspection-and-maintenance-of-fibrous-plaster-ceilings/
Theatre managers and owners wishing to have an inspection carried out are encouraged to use a vetted FIS member and commission the report in accordance with these process notes.