S'pore sisters escape London theatre collapse

When she saw the ceiling buckle while watching a play in London's Apollo Theatre, she thought it was part of the performance.

But to Singaporean Sheryl Kang's horror, rubble then came crashing about four storeys down to the stalls on the first level.

More than 80 people were injured, seven seriously, when the theatre's ceiling collapsed on Dec 19.

Ms Kang, whose sister was sitting some distance away, was watching The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, adapted from Mark Haddon's novel of the same name.

Though the legal counsellor, 30, was unhurt, the accident sparked a frantic search for her sister, Sheena, 22, in the ensuing chaos, as many of the 720 people rushed for the exits.

Recounting her experience, Ms Kang said she was visiting her sister, who is pursuing a master's degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London.

"We managed to get last-minute tickets costing about £15 (S$30) to the play. We both read and loved the novel when we were young," she said.

"I was late meeting my sister due to a problem with my mobile phone. We managed to reach the theatre just before the play began."

But they found their balcony seats on the third level of the theatre already occupied.

"It was packed that night. We were lucky to find two empty seats on the balcony, even though they were far apart from each other."

Ms Kang did not notice anything amiss with the 112-year-old theatre, adding: "It just looked old. Nothing seemed wrong."

But about 45 minutes into the play, she saw people in the first row of the balcony jumping out of their seats and scrambling towards the exit.

Instinctively, she looked up and was horrified to see the theatre's ceiling buckling and sagging in a V-shape.

Ms Kang said: "The ceiling bulged downwards and there were cracks appearing. For a while, I wondered if that was part of the play. I thought it was part of its special effects."

Astonishment turned to fear when she heard the ushers shouting: "Go! Go! Go!"

She sprang to her feet to head towards the exit while trying to spot her sister in the sea of fleeing people. Ms Kang said she felt the urge to head back up the staircase to look for her sister, but thought better of it.

"I was in a dilemma. I didn't want to hold up the crowd or get trampled in a stampede. At the same time, I was worried that my sister would be trapped inside."

When Ms Kang got out of the theatre, she tried to contact her sister. She heaved a sigh of relief when her sister messaged her to say she was safe and was around the corner in front of a Japanese restaurant.

"When we saw each other, we ran to each other, hugged and cried. I was just so glad that my sister was safe," she said, adding that people were streaming out of the theatre covered in grey plaster.

"Some of them were crying, others were bleeding. It was very scary. We could have been seriously injured or killed. We were very lucky to escape unharmed."

Ms Kang flew back to Singapore at the end of her nine-day stay in London on Dec 22.


This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

Get The New Paper for more stories.