A human skull will no longer be used in the Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC's) Hamlet in case it distracts the audience, the theatre company said.

The skull of Polish pianist Andre Tchaikowsky, who lived in Cumnor, was used throughout the play's recent run in Stratford-upon-Avon, but the unusual prop will be dropped when it opens in London's West End, the RSC said.

Audiences in Stratford were unaware the skull in the play belonged to the pianist, who had bequeathed it to the RSC in 1982 for this purpose, a spokesman said.

But the secret spilled out when actor David Tennant, who plays Hamlet, revealed it in a newspaper interview.

The RSC told Channel 4 News that now the secret is out, it would be "too distracting for the audience" if the skull was used.

Substituting the real skull for a fake one will also stop the RSC having to gain permission from the Human Tissue Authority, which it needed before using the real one in Stratford, the spokesman added.

"We never planned to use the real one in the London run," she said.

In the Stratford production, Tennant held the skull aloft in the "Alas poor Yorick" scene of the play, fulfilling the dying wish of Mr Tchaikowsky - a Polish Jew who escaped the Holocaust but died of cancer aged 46.

His former agent and friend Terry Harrison told Channel 4 News he was "disappointed" by the decision to abandon the real skull.