The Alien star, who fought cancer last year (15), was due to perform opposite Kenneth Branagh as father and son Billy and Archie Rice in John Osborne's play about a music hall performer.

However, Hurt was recently hospitalised with an intestinal complaint and doctors have advised he take more time off to recover, forcing him to drop out of the production.

“Although I am much improved and on the road to a full recovery, my doctors have advised that it is too soon for me to undertake a lengthy and arduous stage role," he said in a statement. "It is therefore with great sadness and disappointment that I must withdraw from The Entertainer."

He also sent his love and "very best wishes" to Branagh, the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and director Rob Ashford for a "happy and successful production".

The Entertainer, which also features former Downton Abbey star Sophie MCShera, begins preview performances at London's Garrick Theatre on 20 August (16) and runs until 12 November (16). Hurt's replacement has yet to be announced.

The 76-year-old was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June, 2015 but declared himself in remission in October, 2015.