Ian Holm (pictured) has been forced, due to illness, to withdraw from the cast of Shelagh Stephenson's Mappa Mundi, which was scheduled to receive its world premiere at the National's Cottesloe Theatre next week following previews from this Friday, 18 October 2002. He'll be replaced by Alan Armstrong starring opposite Lia Williams in the production, which has been delayed two weeks, with a new opening date of 7 November (rather than 24 October), following previews from 2 November.

Holm was taken ill at the weekend, with an acute re-occurrence of a blood protein disorder. The autumn 2001 opening of Holm's last London stage production - the Dublin transfer of The Homecoming, also starring Lia Williams - was delayed by a week following a minor operation of the actor's. Holm was last seen at the National in the title role of King Lear in 1997. The performance, which was his first on stage after a long stage fright-induced absence, won him a hat trick of Best Actor awards (Evening Standard, Critics' Circle and Olivier). He was awarded a CBE in 1989 and knighted in 1998.

Armstrong's previous roles for the National include Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman, the title role in Sweeney Todd (for which he won an Olivier) and The Father. His extensive theatre work also includes many roles for the RSC, and Hamm in Endgame, Einstein in Insignificance and Walter Burns in The Front Page at the Donmar Warehouse. His numerous TV and film appearances include Braveheart, An Awfully Big Adventure, Patriot Games, Our Friends in the North and Aristocrats.

In Mappa Mundi, Jack (Armstrong) is a passionate map-maker with a dark secret and only a few months to live. When his family gather for the wedding of his daughter Anna (Williams), Jack is forced to confront the map of his own life and finds its horizons limited. Research into his ancestry proves him to be related to an 18th-century plantation owner, but Anna, who's engaged to a black lawyer, is more interested to discover they may also be descended from a slave.

Stephenson's previous plays include The Memory of Water (first seen at Hampstead Theatre and subsequently in the West End, where it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2000), An Experiment with an Air Pump, Ancient Lights and Five Kinds of Silence.

Mappa Mundi is directed by Bill Alexander, who recently revived his Birmingham Rep production of Bryony Lavery's Frozen at the NT Cottesloe. It's designed by Ruari Murchison, with lighting by Paul Pyant, choreography by Arthur Pita, musica by Jonathan Goldstein and sound by David Tinson. The cast also includes James Hayes, Tim McInnerny, Alibe Parsons and Patrick Robinson, with Chody Choi, Juliet Codlin, Gerrard Martin, Benny Maslov and Lorena Randi.

- by Terri Paddock