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Back injury rules Tennant out of 'Hamlet' for weeks

David Tennant will undergo surgery today for a prolapsed disc and will not return to his Hamlet role before Christmas, the Royal Shakespeare Company said.

The Doctor Who star was said to be "gutted" after he was forced to pull out of the play on Monday night. He also missed Tuesday's press night at London's Novello Theatre but his understudy, a relative unknown called Edward Bennett, stepped in to face the critics – and won a standing ovation.

Bennett, who normally plays Laertes, will continue to perform as Hamlet, the RSC said. He was praised by Tennant, who said yesterday: "It is hugely disappointing for me to have to miss these performances. My back problem has progressed to the point where it is 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."

As is usual policy, the RSC and Delfont Mackintosh Theatres will not be issuing refunds because the company has a fully rehearsed understudy policy and performances will continue as scheduled. The company will offer exchanges, subject to availability.