Two playwrights and collaborators, the composer and most of the cast of a musical comedy destined for Broadway are trying to finish and rehearse the play while crossing from Southampton via Cherbourg, to New York. – The Guide to World Drama
The play was deemed a big disappointment by most critics, but MK was singled out for his comedic chops. From Christopher Edwards’s review in The Spectator:
Next we move to the rehearsal of Turai’s and Gal’s monstrously bad musical comedy involving upper-class jewel thieves redeemed by the love of good women who play ping-pong. This may not be exactly correct but this is all part of the joke. No one really understands what the musical is about, thus enabling Stoppard to introduce his best idea in the form of a land-lubber waiter who grows in stature until he becomes a sort of one-man deus ex machina. He starts with comic misnomers, e.g. calling the funnels chimneys and the bridge the balcony; he initiates a routine which deprives Turai, on about half a dozen occasions, of a much needed brandy which he knocks back himself. Gradually he finds his sea legs when all about are losing theirs, and reveals a formidable grasp of the plot, unavailable even to those who composed it. Michael Kitchen’s performance is very funny, in particular his matter-of-fact plot synopsis of the ludicrously tangled business surrounding the jewel thief…
And Michael Billington wrote in his review for The Guardian (Oct. 31, 1984):
There is a very good performance from Michael Kitchen as the steward whom he endows initially with a knee-sagging Groucho-esque walk that suggests it is teatime on the Titanic which gives way to a trick of inclining vertically in his boots as if he were a marine Little Titch.
One theatergoer recalled years later on this blog:
It’s interesting to me to see Michael Kitchen in so serious a role in Foyle’s War and remember how funny, with excellent timing, he was as Dvornicheck in Rough Crossing. Very good actor.
Despite MK’s hilarious performance, the poor reviews for Rough Crossing led to the National Theatre pulling the play from its repertoire. For MK, though, unemployment didn’t last long, as the start of filming for Out of Africa in January 1985 was just weeks away.