Last night's performance of Hard Times, at the Haymarket, was cut short due to the illness of star Roy Hudd, who is suffering from laryngitis. Confused audience members were informed at the interval that they should go home as Hudd could not continue and a doctor had been called.

It was clear from the start of the performance that Hudd was not on top form. His usually booming voice was reduced to little more than a whisper, and in scenes where he was meant to be singing solo, a clumsy lip-synching technique involving members of the ensemble was employed.

It was left to co-star Brian Blessed to break the news to the audience after the Act One finale. Regrettably, he said, Hudd's under-study was not sufficiently rehearsed to take over the performance. Many theatre-goers, some of whom had travelled to London especially for the evening's show, were flabbergasted. The management apologised and offered to either reimburse the price of the tickets or issue new tickets for another performance, although theatre-goers were told they would have to call the following day to make arrangements as the box office had closed for the night.

Hudd's illness doesn't bode well for the new musical, which only opened on Tuesday night. Reviews have, on the whole, not been good, and the house for last night's show, even before the show's curtailment, was already less than half full. It's unclear how quickly Rudd will be able to recover and/or how quickly the understudy can be prepared.

Hard Times, a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' 1854 novel of the same name, tells the story of Mr Sleary's Travelling Circus and its impact on a small industrial town, played against the tyranny of local school owner and MP Thomas Gradgrind who callously uses his own children to secure his social standing.

Comedian and panto star Hudd stars as both narrator and Mr Sleary with actor, writer and mountaineer Brian Blessed playing both Gradgrind and Dickens himself. Also in the cast are Patsy Rowlands, Susan Jane Tanner, Malcolm Rennie, Matt Rawle, Helen Anker, Alicia Davies and Peter Blake.

Hard Times is written by Daily Mail film critic Christopher Tookey (with Hugh Thomas) who also directs and co-produces. Prior to its West End transfer, the musical ran for four weeks in Windsor. At the Haymarket, it is currently booking to 4 August 2000.