I was Company and Stage manager for Václav Havel’s TEMPTATION, a drama, which opened at the Westminster Theatre (now the re-built St. James Theatre), in London’s West End on June 6, 1990 and closed on July 14, 1990, after 48 performances and a budget of £250,000.
A Faustian play written by the Czech playwright (and President) in 1985 has given the Faust legend a provocative twist, where ‘Dr. Henry Forster’ is a scientist, and part of an institution that looks down on the occult and it’s uses. Following the course of the original story, Dr. Henry Forster makes a deal with the devil to forward his love life and career, but in the end pays the ultimate price of his soul, showing internal conflict as he struggles to reconcile his beliefs and his honor with his needs and desires.
Produced by Westminster Productions Ltd. and presented at the Westminster Theatre.
Written by Václav Havel; Translated from the Czech by George Theiner; Produced by Hugh Steadman Williams; Directed by James Roose-Evans; Set Design by Bruno Santini and Michael T. Roberts; Costume Design by Ian MacNeil; Lighting Design by David Lawrence; Sound Design & Incidental Music by Kevin Malpass; Movement Adviser: Geraldine Stephenson and Magic Consultant: Ali Bongo.
STARRING Sylvester McCoy (Albert Fistula); Frank Middlemass (The Director / Vogue & Evacuation Voice Over); Aden Gillett (Dr. Henry Forster); Rula Lenska [aka Countess Roza-Marie Leopoldyna Lubienska] (Valerie Vilma, Scientist / Vogue Voice Over); Robert Longden (Deputy Director); Christopher Adamson (Dr. Alex Nevison); Mark Montinaro (Lt. Jones (Warder to the Institute)); Anna Barnes (Lt. Smith (Warder to the Institute)); Sukie Smith (Dr. Elizabeth (Libby) Lawrence / Mrs. Hobson (Dr. Forster’s Landlady)); Angela Clerkin (Maggie Clarke); Sara Stweart (Poppy Petts); Andrew Lawden (Secretary to the Director / Boris); Jerome Turner (Dr. William Kotters); Tristram Davies (Inspector Stevens); Toby Simkin (Vogue & Evacuation Voice Over); Franc Fioli & Penelope Diamond (Lovers) [in the onstage film] with musicians on Viola: Kate Musker; Guitar: Derek Parris and Oboe: Chris Parsons.
Assistant Costume Designer: Celia Griffiths; Dance Teacher (Lambarda): Kerry Ribchester; Dance Researcher (Vogue): Andrew Lawden; Casting Consultant: Penny Wesson; Additional Lyrics by Robert Longden [“The Time Has Come“]; Production Manager: Howard Bird; Company & Stage Manager: Toby Simkin; Deputy Staged Managed by Susan James; Assistant Stage Managed by Richard Reddrop & Anna Barnes; Public Relations: Sue Hyman & Angela McArthur; Marketing by Danny Thorpe; Photographer: John Haynes; Graphics Designer: John Farley; Head Carpenter: Denis Groutage; Head Electrician: Mark Bloxsidge; Assistant Electrician: Kim Fox; Props Construction by Makers; Props Construction by Tim Sykes & Colette Christmas [V.I.S.P.]; Wardrobe Supervisor: Karen Marsh; Wardrobe Assistant: Mandy Amielle & Michael Blacket; Costume Construction by Academy Costumes; Ms. Lenska’s Dresses by Celia Rhoden; Ms. Lenska’s Dancewear by Celia Dewes; Jewellry by Andrew Logan [for Ms. Lenska]; Suits by Alan Seltzer [for Mr. Longden]; Hair Stylist: Richard and Reggie of Michaeljohn [for Ms. Lenska]; Wigs by Gillie Clark; Sound Board Operator: Adrian Gummer; Film Camera & Lighting: Pete Collis, Production Assistant: Teresa Dadey; Accounting by Ray Spalding; Accounting Assistant: Marie McGowan; Scenery Construction by Complete Theatre Services and Lighting Supply by NOVA Ltd..
This play is remembered in West End theatre history as the show that:
- Closed the Westminster Theatre (it was considered too sexually suggestive for many of the MRA theatre owners) and sold in 1998 for £2.7 million;
- It was written by Vaclav Havel, the past president of the Czech Republic.
- It changed the rules with the British Musicians Union after Toby Simkin won a very public battle to allow prop radio music not requiring live musicians;
- It was at the height of the divorce of Rula Lenska and Denis Waterman with intense daily gutter press intrusion and offers of bribes to Toby Simkin and others in the company for stories or photos of Rula;
- It was the first stage appearance of Sylvester McCoy since leaving his starring role as Doctor Who;
- The show ended each performance with a carefully executed stage bursting into flames and orchestrated public evacuation;
- The adjoining Phoenix pub had a private door onto the stage right wing for the Westminster Theatre crew, and a theatre paging/bell system installed behind the bar which was used nightly for the crew to make their cues on time;
- The original Westminster Theatre additionally had a secret private royal box and tunnel that could only be accessed from across Palace Road under the Royal Mews inside the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
- The St. James Theatre has now been built on the old site.
- Scene 1: the play begins in a room in the Institute. Dr. Henry Forster, (the main character and representation of the Faust character played by Aden Gillett), walks in on his associates, is welcomed and asked about his private studies. Dr. Henry Forster quickly rejects working on private studies, and the other characters smile at one another. The Institute’s Deputy (played by Robert Longden) and Institute Director (the primary antagonist and representation of Satan played by Frank Middlemass) walk in, and the Director explains to the group that the Institute, an institute of science, must prevail against the growing cult/fad of black magic.
- Scene 2: in his apartment, the Dr. Henry Forster uses black magic to call upon a crippled wizard named Albert Fistula (and representation of Mephistopheles played by Sylvester McCoy). After a number of odd exchanges, Albert Fistula agrees to help Dr. Henry Forster with his study of black magic in exchange for a testimony that Albert Fistula helped him.
- Scene 3: at the office party later that night, the wizard demonstrates his powers by making Dr. Henry Forster’s love interest, Maggie Clarke (played by Angela Clerkin), fall in love with him and kiss him.
- Scene 4: Dr. Henry Forster’s girlfriend, Valerie Vilma (played by Rula Lenska), sees this. In her bedroom later that night, Valerie Vilma confronts Dr. Henry Forster about his interactions with Maggie Clarke. Dr. Henry Forster counters by bringing up Valerie Vilma’s dancer friend Boris (played by Andrew Lawden), but they make up. When the Boris the dancer drops off flowers for Valerie Vilma, Dr. Henry Forster loses it and slaps her to the ground.
- Scene 5: back in the original room, a replay of the opening scene occurs up until the Director’s announcement. He accuses Dr. Henry Forster of betraying the Institute’s noble cause of science by studying and even using black magic. Dr. Henry Forster is guaranteed an “innocent until proven guilty” trial.
- Scene 6: returning to his study, Dr. Henry Forster again meets Albert Fistula and they argue about the “stunt” pulled at the party. Albert Fistula diagnoses Dr. Henry Forster with CDS, a syndrome of looking over one’s past mistakes. Albert Fistula tells Dr. Henry Forster that Valerie Vilma exposed him, among other things, and Dr. Henry Forster seems doubtful.
- Scene 7: in the original room again, Dr. Henry Forster’s “trial” begins. Dr. Henry Forster is able to convince everyone that his studies of dark magic were for scientific purposes, and is subsequently celebrated for his brilliance; the group’s next party is revealed to be a costume party featuring witches, wizards, etc., planned in order to mock black magic and celebrate Dr. Henry Forster’s research.
- Scene 8: back in Valerie Vilma’s bedroom, Dr. Henry Forster accuses Valerie Vilma of revealing his activities to the Director, to which Valerie Vilma responds with a breakup. Distraught and upset, Dr. Henry Forster attempts to strangle Valerie Vilma, but Boris the dancer arrives and dances (in vogueing style) with Valerie Vilma while Dr. Henry Forster sits helplessly and watches.
- Scene 9: back in Dr. Henry Forster’s apartment, his landlady, Mrs Hobson (played by Sukie Smith) gives her concerns about Albert Fistula to Dr. Henry Forster, all of which Dr. Henry Forster ignores. Albert Fistula is let in and accuses Dr. Henry Forster of breaking their deal to keep their meetings secret. Dr. Henry Forster, resembling his earlier trial, convinces Albert Fistula that he only revealed their meetings to gain the Director’s trust and to further the interests of dark magic. Albert Fistula, content, says that the devil himself wouldn’t have tolerated a deal-breaking like that.
- Scene 10: at the costume party, Dr. Henry Forster repeatedly fails to gain the Director’s attention. When he finally does, the Director reveals that he was onto Dr. Henry Forster from the start; he also reveals that Albert Fistula was his accomplice in finding out the truth. He states that you cannot serve two masters for your own interests. As the Director makes his speech, everyone from the institute surrounds Dr. Henry Forster, where he is set on fire, smoke and flames ignite the theatre, the play ends with the theatre being evacuated by the London Fire Brigade.