David Tennant (pictured), who has been out of Hamlet since 8 December with a back injury (See News, 10 Dec 2008), returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company production this past Saturday night (3 January 2009) for the final week of performances at the West End’s Novello Theatre.

A statement issued by the RSC on Saturday night explained: “David Tennant has made good progress following his recent back operation and began rehearsals yesterday in preparation for his return to the title role in Hamlet. He has rehearsed again today (Saturday) and will perform this evening. Edward Bennett will therefore return to his original role as Laertes, along with Tom Davey, Ricky Champ and Robert Curtis who will play Guildenstern, Lucianus, and Francisco. We will be assessing David's return to each Hamlet performance next week on a day-by-day basis so patrons are being invited to check our website - www.rsc.org.uk from 12 noon each day for an update for that evening's performance.”

Tennant was forced to withdraw from the production the day before the London press night – which went ahead with his understudy Edward Bennett winning critical praise and a standing ovation for his title performance (See Review Round-up, 10 Dec 2008) – with a prolapsed disc for which he received surgery on 11 December.

In a statement at the time, Tennant said: “It is hugely disappointing for me to have to miss these performances. My back problem has progressed to the point where it is currently impossible for me to carry on without surgery. I want to get back onstage as quickly as possible, and I am very grateful to Ed who has courageously got to grips with the role but in a much shorter time. It's a fantastic achievement."

Prior to last month’s injury, David Tennant had only missed one performance in his distinguished stage career to date. While now best known to TV fans for his onscreen adventures in Doctor Who, from which he took a year off to fulfil his RSC commitments, Tennant made his acting debut on stage in his native Scotland. Early in his career, he spent two seasons with the RSC, where his other roles included Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors and Jack in Peter Whelan’s The Herbal Bed. His many other stage credits include The Pillowman, Lobby Hero and Look Back in Anger.

The cast of Hamlet also features Patrick Stewart, who doubles as the Ghost and Claudius, Penny Downie as Gertrude, Oliver Ford-Davies as Polonius, John Woodvine and Mariah Gale as Ophelia.

Even before its West End opening, Hamlet garnered two nominations in this year’s Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards shortlists, announced on Friday (See News, 5 Dec 2008): Best Regional Production for its Stratford-upon-Avon season and Theatre Event of the Year for Tennant’s stage comeback after his Doctor Who-enforced absence.

Hamlet’s limited London season concludes this Saturday, 10 January 2009. The RSC’s winter residency at the Novello then continues with Hamlet director Gregory Doran’s cross-cast production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (15 January to 7 February) and Conall Morrison’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, starring Stephen Boxer and Michelle Gomez (12 February to 7 March).

- by Terri Paddock