Rowan Atkinson is set to miss three weeks of Oliver! performances to have a hernia operation. Russ Abbot (pictured), who played the role of Fagin during the production's last West End outing at the Palladium and on the subsequent UK Tour, will step in as his replacement from 13 April.

Atkinson joins Mathew Horne on the West End casualty list - Horne collapsed with exhaustion during yesterday's matinee performance of Entertaining Mr Sloane (See Today's Other News).

Atkinson, who has been on holiday for the past week (since 26 March), has flown back early for the operation, which is for an indirect inguinal hernia. An official statement reads: "The condition, whilst neither serious nor dangerous, is extremely painful and prevents normal movement, making performing impossible. Cameron Mackintosh is delighted to announce that we have been lucky enough to get Russ Abbot to return to the role of Fagin for two weeks from 13 April."

Cameron Mackintosh said today: "Our sympathy goes out to Rowan and all our best wishes for a speedy recovery and return to the production. I regret the disappointment this will cause to many but I am delighted that Russ has so ably stepped into the breach."

Tim Laurenti, who has covered the role during Atkinson's holiday period, will continue until 11 April. After his return, Atkinson will continue in the role until 18 July, with Omid Djalili taking over from 30 July (See News, 11 Feb 2009).

Oliver! , which broke box office records by taking over £15million in advance sales, is directed by Rupert Goold, based on Sam Mendes’ 1994 staging at the London Palladium. The cast also features I'd Do Anything winner Jodie Prenger as Nancy and Burn Gorman as Bill Sikes (See News, 2 Jun 2008).

Russ Abbot is best known for his long-running TV comedy series The Russ Abbot Show. His West End credits include The Producers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, My Fair Lady and Caught in the Net.

- by Theo Bosanquet