Doctor's orders: David Tennant quits Hamlet role for back surgery
For half the Doctor Who fans who queued overnight, crashed booking websites and jammed ticket hotlines to see David Tennant play Hamlet, it is sadly not to be.
The RSC confirmed yesterday that the actor would not be returning to the Novello Theatre stage in the West End before Christmas. He has a prolapsed disc and will undergo surgery today.
In his stead Edward Bennett, 29, a relative unknown who was due to be playing Laertes, will continue to perform the most coveted role in English drama.
Bennett received a standing ovation on Monday night and again on Tuesday when he filled in for Tennant with three hours’ notice, attracting warm reviews from the critics. He emerged wide-eyed from rehearsals yesterday to say that he was thrilled to have the opportunity to play the Prince of Denmark, but said that Tennant was a “scary” act to follow.
“It’s a dream part to do and it’s amazing, but you don’t want him to be away and you don’t want him to be sick.”
Tennant, 37, has suffered from a “niggling” back injury for some time but had ignored it, thinking that there was no point in seeking medical help for an occasional twinge. On the set of Doctor Who he was renowned for his athleticism and for performing his own stunts. He played Hamlet 60 times at Stratford-upon-Avon in the summer before the West End transfer, without missing a single performance.
A spokesman for the Royal Shakespeare Company said: “The problem has been around for a while, certainly before he was with this production. I don’t think even he knows when it started.”
Tennant saw a specialist on Tuesday and again yesterday. Last night he said: “It is hugely disappointing for me to have to miss these performances. My back problem has progressed to the point where it is currently impossible for me to carry on without surgery. I want to get back on stage as quickly as possible and I am very grateful to Ed who has courageously got to grips with the role but in a much shorter time. It’s a fantastic achievement.”
By Christmas, Tennant will have missed 14 of the scheduled performances not counting previews, with a further 14 still to come.
He has proved a box-office sensation as Hamlet, with all 6,000 available tickets for the London shows selling out in three hours in September.
However, the run at the Novello is due to finish on January 10, four months before Jude Law, another Hamlet with huge crossover appeal, attempts to stamp his own personality on the role at the Wyndhams Theatre a few hundred yards to the west.
Michael Boyd, the artistic director of the RSC, said: “We all wish David a speedy recovery and it is an indication of the RSC’s investment in under-studies that Ed Bennett can take over Shakespeare’s largest role at such short notice.”
Although the production’s popular appeal was hugely enhanced by the casting of Tennant, the RSC and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres have refused to offer refunds. The RSC said: “The company has a fully rehearsed understudy policy and performances will continue as scheduled. The company is able to offer exchanges, subject to availability, for other RSC London performances during this season at the Novello Theatre. Patrons are also able to offer tickets for resale, subject to the usual terms and conditions.”
Viagogo, the biggest online ticket reseller, said that tickets for the show, which originally sold for between £5 and £40, had been changing hands for upwards of £300.
The statement of "I don’t think even he knows when it started" makes me wonder if he even injured himself at all. It's possible it could be in his genes according to this article given as a related link in the above story.
Whatever the cause of his back problem, I wish David a speedy recovery. I hope he doesn't try to do too much too soon. Even though he hates disappointing his fans and wants to be on stage as soon as possible, he should do exactly what his doctors tell him.....even if it means he misses all the rest of the performances. His health is much more important.
I was thinking.....if I had a ticket to see Hamlet during David's time off, I would still go see it. I know it would be disappointing to miss David's Hamlet, but I'd still get to see Patrick Stewart and maybe find some other new fantastic actors too. And, it still would be a great treat to see the whole production. In a way, it would be my way of showing my support of David. I don't know if this makes any sense, but that's the way I feel about it.