Despite a shaky start, the new musical Hard Times, based loosely on Charles Dickens' 1854 novel, has extended its run at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket by four months. The show, which opened on 6 June following previews from 1 June, had been booking to 4 August. It is now taking bookings to 25 November 2000.

When the show arrived in the West End after a four-week run in Windsor, it was greeted with mixed reviews by London critics, many of whom found it old-fashioned. In the opening week, the show seemed to live up to its name, struggling with half-full houses and sickness. One evening performance was halted at the interval because star Roy Hudd was suffering from laryngitis and the under-study had not been thoroughly rehearsed.

Hard Times 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.

Actor, writer and mountaineer Brian Blessed stars as Gradgrind with comedian Roy Hudd as Mr Sleary. They're joined by Patsy Rowlands, Susan Jane Tanner, Malcolm Rennie, Matt Rawle, Helen Anker, Alicia Davies and Peter Blake. Blessed's theatre credits include, for the RSC, Hamlet, Henry V and Richard III, and in the West End, Old Deuteronomy in Cats (New London Theatre), Incident at Vichy (Phoenix), The Exorcism (Comedy) and Metropolis (Piccadilly). Prior to Hard Times, Hudd, who is best known for his radio programme 'The News Huddlines', starred as Pseudolus in last summer's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Open Air).

Hard Times features original music and lyrics by Christopher Tookey, who also directs. It is co-produced by Tookey and Peter Penny in association with Bill Kenwright. A percentage of the show's gross income will be donated to the NSPCC.