Spotlight on stand-ins as star's illness nearly turns show into a no-showLast updated at 17:33pm on 7th March 2007
It is the hottest show in town - the real-life rollercoaster drama of Billie Piper's West End debut.
Less than two days ago she came out of the theatre where she is due to appear in Treats to announce: "I'm doing really well."
Then the troubled actress - who has been seen weeping in public with ex-husband Chris Evans - was forced to pull out of a preview performance of Christopher Hampton's play because of illness.
But today doctors gave the 24-year-old the go-ahead for tonight's preview at the Garrick Theatre. The play is due to open tomorrow, a week later than originally planned.
Spokesman Ewan Thomson said: "Billie was delighted to hear she is allowed back tonight. She hates letting people down and - fingers crossed - she will be okay for Thursday's opening night."
Piper is the latest in a line of West End stars who have pulled out of performances because of illness.
Connie Fisher was ordered to take a two-week break from playing Maria in The Sound Of Music to rest her strained vocal cords. Sophie Bould is standing in.Andrew Lloyd Webber is offering to exchange tickets for those who have booked for performances while star Fisher is off sick - but seats for the popular show may not be available until November.
Meanwhile Richard Griffiths, in Equus as a psychiatrist treating Daniel Radcliffe, has the flu.
Although illness is unavoidable, audience disappointment at the absence of star performers has often been exacerbated by understudies' apparent lack of familiarity with their roles.
When Griffiths was replaced by Colin Haigh in last Friday's performance, he seemed to be reading the script from a notebook. A spokesman said: "Within the psychiatrist's manual he had a reminder of some of the lines.
"After all, the play had only been open two days. You know how they change plays right up to the first night."
Fisher's absence from The Sound Of Music coincides with a two-week break for co-star Lesley Garrett, who missed a performance a fortnight ago because of illness.
The Royal Court, staging The Seagull starring Kristin Scott Thomas, does not have understudies on financial grounds.
When Carey Mulligan, who plays Nina, fell ill with appendicitis last month, the theatre had to find a stand-in at the last minute. "We were fortunate enough that Jodie Whittaker was available," said a spokesman.
"She obviously is a brilliant actress and she stepped in and did the show with a script in hand." But Whittaker could only do two performances and another actress, Anna Madeley, had to take over until Mulligan was well enough to return.
Director Harry Burton once spent a year as "walking cover" for the part of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.
He said: "You could almost hear the murmur behind the curtain when they make the announcement that the part of Henry Higgins will be played by Harry Burton - 'Who the bloody hell is he?'
"But sometimes it is a bit of a thrill for the audience, because they think they are witnessing a star being born." The productionwas infamous for the many absences of former EastEnders star Martine McCutcheon.
Burton said: " Martine brought in an interesting East End audience - none of whom took kindly to being told she was not appearing."http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/pages/live/articles/showbiz/showbiznews.html?in_article_id=440753&in_page_id=1773