Ralph Fiennes has been left in the lurch again with no one to play Sigmund Freud to his Carl Jung in the world premiere of Christopher Hampton's The Talking Cure at the National's Cottesloe Theatre.

After actor James Hazeldine was forced to withdraw late on Tuesday and hospitalised with chest pains, Bill Paterson was quickly signed up (See News, Wed 11 Dec 2002). The press night, originally scheduled for Thursday 12 December, was cancelled with Paterson going into immediate rehearsals and due to face the public for the first time on Friday evening.

But late on Friday, Paterson apparently decided that, with his other commitments, he was no longer able to meet the demands required of the role and so withdrew himself. A fellow cast member, the younger actor Dominic Rowan who also plays Otto Gross in The Talking Cure, has read being reading the part of Freud from the script and will continue to do so until a permanent replacement is found, although some further performances may be cancelled.

Theatregoers who have booked for a performance are advised to phone the National box office (020 7452 3000) for the day's status and, in the case of cancellations, for ticket exchanges or refunds. New press nights have not yet been scheduled. These will depend on the eventual recast and are likely to be staggered as the majority of the run to 5 February 2003 has long sold out on the strength of Fiennes' name.

As with productions at the similarly sized Donmar Warehouse and Almeida Theatre, the National does not ordinarily employ understudies for shorter runs at the Cottesloe, the smallest of its theatres, due to financial constraints. In this case, the lack of one will result in much greater losses from refunds on full houses costing up to £27 per seat. And the situation has wreaked havoc with Ralph Fiennes' much-anticipated return to the National stage.

A production insider told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: "It's bedlam backstage. They're looking through all the casting books hoping to find a middle-aged actor who hasn't signed up to a panto for Christmas."

The Talking Cure deals with the early years of Jung and his decision to experiment, using Freud's controversial new method of psycho-analysis, with a young Russian patient, Sabine Spielrein. The success of the experiment and the blossoming of his relationship with Sabine inaugurates, haunts and ultimately poisons Jung's relationship with Freud.

The production is directed by Howard Davies and designed by Tim Hatley, with costumes by Jenny Beaven, lighting by Peter Mumford, music by Dominic Muldowney and sound by Christopher Shutt. In addition to Fiennes and Rowan, the cast also includes Jodhi May, Nancy Carroll and Valerie Spelman.

- by Terri Paddock