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Update: Tennant Misses Hamlet’s London Opening

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UPDATED, Tue 8 Dec 2008 @ 4.30pm: The latest information - including a statement from the Royal Shakespeare Company - has now been added to this story. Updates are denoted in bold below.

The RSC has this afternoon confirmed that David Tennant (pictured) will miss tonight’s highly-anticipated opening of Hamlet at the West End’s Novello Theatre, due to a recurring back injury that also forced him to withdraw from last night’s preview.

The RSC has decided to go ahead with the press performance with the understudy Edward Bennett in the title role. Bennett, who normally performs Laertes, received a standing ovation when he stepped in for Tennant at last night’s preview.

RSC artistic director Michael Boyd said today: “As an ensemble company, we feel that it is important to go ahead with tonight’s performance. While understanding that some people will be disappointed at not seeing David Tennant on stage, this production, like all our productions, is more than the sum of its parts – an ensemble of actors, designers, composers etc, and we should respect that by going ahead as planned.”

RSC chief associate director Gregory Doran and director of the production said: “David is gutted, not only at the thought of disappointing audiences, but also to be unable to perform a role that he has worked on and developed throughout 60 performances in Stratford-upon-Avon. Before this injury, he has only ever been off for one performance in his entire career to date, and is hoping that he will be able to return to the show as quickly as possible. It is an indication of the RSC’s investment in understudies that Ed Bennett can take over from David in one of Shakespeare’s largest roles at such short notice.”

Even prior to its West End opening, Hamlet has garnered two nominations in this year’s Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards shortlists, announced on Friday (See News, 5 Dec 2008): Best Regional Production for its Stratford-upon-Avon season and Theatre Event of the Year for Tennant’s stage comeback after his Doctor Who-enforced absence.

David Tennant (pictured) missed last night’s preview performance of Hamlet (8 December 2008) due to a back injury, although it is believed he will return for tonight’s opening. It’s the first performance Tennant has missed since the run began in Stratford-upon-Avon on 5 August 2008 (previews from 24 July) and subsequently began previews at the Novello Theatre on 3 December.

His absence led to a last-minute reshuffle with Edward Bennett, who normally plays Laertes, stepping into the title role and Tom Davey, normally Guildenstern, taking over as Laertes. Ricky Champ takes on the role of Guildenstern and Robert Curtis takes on the role of Lucianus.

A source at the RSC told Whatsonstage.com that Tennant has a recurring back problem and that, despite “hopes for his return”, his appearance tonight “cannot be confirmed” at this stage.

The production, directed by Gregory Doran, has enjoyed unprecedented ticket demand since the casting of Tennant was announced last year (See News, 4 Sep 2007). The RSC has had to contend with crowds of Doctor Who fans packing the Courtyard stage door as well as a recent problem with forged tickets for performances at the Novello.

Tennant stars alongside Patrick Stewart who doubles as the Ghost and Claudius, and they are joined in the company by Penny Downie as Gertrude, Oliver Ford-Davies as Polonius, John Woodvine and Mariah Gale as Ophelia.

- by Theo Bosanquet & Terri Paddock


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