Michael Barrymore last night spectacularly pulled out of his comeback stage show after just three performances (See News, 27 Jun 2003). The troubled television comedian cancelled last night's show at the Wyndham's Theatre minutes before curtain-up and called off the rest of his run, which was due to continue until 8 November 2003 (with a break from 12 to 20 October).

The one-man show, marking Barrymore's West End debut, is part of a season of comedy at Wyndham's that also features Lenny Henry and Bill Bailey. Barrymore had success with it earlier this year, with sell-out dates on tour in Australia and New Zealand in May, but London reviews this week (the first performance was Monday, 15 September) have been generally damning and ticket sales poor.

Born Michael Parker, Barrymore was inspired to change his name after reading a biography of the famous American acting dynasty. In the 1980s and 1990s, after many years of stage variety and comedy, Barrymore rose to become one of the most powerful figures in British TV entertainment, performing in and presenting myriad series such as Strike It Lucky, Saturday Night Out, Kids Say the Funniest Things, Animals Do the Funniest Things and the eponymous Michael Barrymore Show, Barrymore and Barrymore on Broadway. He later starred in the comedy drama Bob Martin.

Controversy came in 1995 when Barrymore announced that he was homosexual, despite being married for nearly 20 years. Over the next several years, he continued to receive a rough ride in the tabloid press for perceived drunken and unruly bad behaviour. The situation culminated in March 2001 when a man was found dead in the pool of Barrymore's Essex home after an impromptu late night party.

At the time of announcing the London season in June, Barrymore said: "I am delighted to be returning to my roots and my first love of live theatre and am very much looking forward to performing to a West End audience."

Last night, the comedian issued a statement, saying: "Firstly I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologise to everyone who has bought tickets but the pressure f the last two years has taken its toll. I would like to thank my fans, friends and Alcoholics Anonymous who have all helped me to remain sober and given me great support and care."

Producer Steven Berrick added: "Michael Barrymore has had to withdraw for personal reasons, which we support and understand. We want to assure fans that all money will be refunded. We wish Michael all the best for the future."

Comedian Bill Bailey will pick up some of the slack from Barrymore’s cancellation. His show, Part Troll, which was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe, was due to play from 13 to 18 October 2003 only. It will now continue until 25 Ocober. The British Comedy Award winner and star of BBC2's Never Mind the Buzzcocks returns to the screen later this year in the third series of Black Books.

For further information on Michael Barrymore refunds, contact the Wyndhams box office on 0870 060 6633.

- by Terri Paddock