ONE of the South’s largest theatres was evacuated and nearby homes plunged into darkness when a rat was electrocuted at an electricity sub station.

Staff from the Mayflower Theatre were forced to leave the iconic building in Southampton at 9.30pm last night when the blackout struck - cutting the power to a number of nearby buildings.

Firefighters say the rodent died after managing to get into the sub station next to the theatre and its burning body caused sparks and smoke which caused the power to cut out to 50 homes.

The theatre maintained power throughout - but staff - who were working to prepare sets and staging for the forthcoming Mary Poppins production - were evacuated for a safety precaution.

A show was not taking place at the time.

Crew manager Allister Own was among crews from Redbridge fire station arriving a said there was a strong smell like “cooked beef” in the air but the smoke had died down.

They guarded the substation until engineers from the electricity board arrived to fix the problem.

It is not known when the power was reconnected.

Crew manager Owen said: “It was a very unusual one for us.

"A large rodent had got into the sub station and go frazzled and caused crackling and smoke.

"It lost its life.”

A spokesman for the theatre said the staff - who have been working for three days to unloading and assembling staging and backdrops brought to the venue on huge trailers - returned to the building after 45 minutes.

He said: "We didn't lose any power but staff were evacuated as a precaution. It hasn't affected our schedule and the show will be on time."

A spokesman for Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) said that 50 properties were affected by the power cut shortly before 9.30am.

He said engineers worked to restore the connection by 11.01pm.

He said: “The equipment in our sub stations is very sensitive and if something comes into contact with it the power can go off.

"In this case a rat had gone in there and come into contact with the power equipment.

"We apologise to our customers and we assure them we did all we can to get the power back on.”