Producer Cameron Mackintosh has cancelled this week’s first two preview performances – this Friday evening and Saturday matinee - of Oliver! at the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane to allow for more rehearsal time (See News, 26 Mar 2008). The first preview will now be at 7.30pm this Saturday 13 December 2008, with the new year press performance still scheduled for 14 January 2009.

In a statement released this afternoon, Mackintosh said: "Due to the complexity of the production and the need to safely rehearse 150 children with the adult company of 35 actors on a moving set, we have decided that we need extra rehearsal time and therefore, with great regret, I have decided to cancel the first two previews.

“Licensing regulations require us to have three teams of 50 children, many of whom are on stage for most of the show. Each scene has to be rehearsed three times and, as the set is very large and complicated, it is imperative that they are rehearsed in complete safety.

“I am terribly sorry for the disappointment this will cause, but my team are doing everything to reseat patrons into future performances as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we are working towards creating a fantastic show which will be the largest production of Oliver! ever seen.”

Theatregoers with tickets for the cancelled performances should contact their original point of sale to arrange an exchange or refund.

Oliver! stars Rowan Atkinson as Fagin, I’d Do Anything winner Jodie Prenger as Nancy, Burn Gorman as Bill Sikes and, chosen by Mackintosh and I’d Do Anything judge Andrew Lloyd Webber as part of the TV series, the three boys who will alternate in the title role: Gwion Jones, Harry Stott and Laurence Jeffcoate.

Also featured are Julian Bleach as Mr Sowerberry, Rosemary Leach as Mrs Bedwin, Julius D'Silva as Mr Bumble, Wendy Ferguson as Widow Corney, Tamsin Carroll as the alternate Nancy and, alternating the role of the Artful Dodger, Eric Dibb Fuller, Robert Madge and Ross McCormack (See News, 5 Nov 2008).

Oliver! is directed by Rupert Goold, based on Sam Mendes’ 1994 staging at the London Palladium. Goold will be joined by two key members of Mendes’ original creative team, Matthew Bourne, who co-directs and choreographs the new outing, and set designer Anthony Ward. Lighting is by Paule Constable, sound by Paul Groothuis, orchestrations by William D Brohn and musical supervision by Martin Koch. Mendes’ production ran for 1,366 performances from December 1994 to February 1998 at the Palladium, where it grossed more than £40 million.

Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical is based on Charles Dickens’ literary classic Oliver Twist and, beyond its theatre fanbase, found legions of fans from the 1968 film version starring Mark Lester as Oliver, Shani Wallis as Nancy, Ron Moody as Fagin, Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger and Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes.

The score includes now-famous songs including “Consider Yourself”, “It’s a Fine Life”, “As Long as He Needs Me”, “Oom-pah-pah”, “Food, Glorious Food”, “I’d Do Anything” and the title song. The stage production is presented by Mackintosh in association with the Southbrook Group Limited.

- by Terri Paddock