Tag Archives: National Theatre

Finally learned where this photo was taken. Seems Michael Kitchen was among the audience at Harold Pinter: A Celebration, a star-studded tribute held at the National’s Olivie​r Theatre on
June 7, 2009 for the then recently deceased Nobel Prize winning dramatist. MK went dressed as John Farrow complete with a yacht club tan. Attending the event must have brought back some incredible memories for him:

No Man's Land: Michael Kitchen nose to nose with John Gielgud

To think MK’s now almost the same age John Gielgud was when Pinter’s
No Man’s Land premiered, and 40 years after sharing the stage with the acting legend, he is at the end of his career rather than the beginning. Sadly, time creeps up on us all.

(A photo of MK attending the 2000 South Bank Show awards can also be seen on the Redux image site.)


Wonderful to listen to Michael Kitchen as Mercutio in the British Library’s Reading Room today. I’ve never heard such marvelously rolled R’s and guttural line delivery from him, which combined with stage antics I can only imagine, made him an obvious audience favorite. And what a hoot to hear pulsing sax- and electric guitar-infused rock as the incidental music throughout the play.

While the British Library recordings were a feast for my ears, visiting the National Theatre Archive was a feast for my eyes. It was a thrill to delve into all the rehearsal and production photographs of Michael Kitchen, many of which I’d not seen before. So glad I was able to have copies made of some of my favorites to take home with me and add to my MK smiles collection.

Peter Hall was also co-director, albeit a mostly absent one, with Alan Ayckbourn for the latter’s hit comedy play, Bedroom Farce, in which Michael Kitchen was one of the six original castmembers. In this marvelous video from the National Theatre Ayckbourn talks of rehearsing the play and how all the actors doubted their own abilities in the weeks leading up to the premiere:

By the time we got to Birmingham, the cast was suicidal…

I think every single one of them, including Joan Hickson, the great Joan Hickson, and Michael Kitchen – wonderful cast – they all came up to me and said, “I know I wasn’t the first choice*. Uh, but, uh, I want you to know that I’m- I’m rotten at comedy. I’ve never- I’ve never liked doing comedy. Uh, and uh, I was so sorry, I’m letting down your play, and uh, I’m rubbish.”

*Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft were on the original wish-list.

Hard to imagine that Michael Kitchen with his superb comic timing once thought he couldn’t do comedy. It hadn’t occurred to me that Bedroom Farce was indeed his first major foray into comedy. Thank goodness the Birmingham audience went barmy on opening night and Michael Kitchen went on to many more roles that showcased his comedic talents.

(Also on the photostage.co.uk site, photos of Michael Kitchen in Romeo and Juliet.)

Six weeks after Freud aired, Michael Kitchen could be seen live on stage playing a very different role in Tom Stoppard’s new work, Rough Crossing.

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.

Another wrote:

I saw the original version of Rough Crossing by Tom Stoppard with Michael Kitchen creating the role of Dvornichek. My God, Kitchen is good at comedy. It’s spoilt me for any other actor in that role all these years.

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.

Prior to A&E, Michael Kitchen and Niamh Cusack also co-starred as a couple in The Art of Success, a raunchy play that required MK as William Hogarth to don a Restoration wig almost as big as the one he later wore in Lorna Doone.

From Charles Spencer’s review for the Daily Telegraph (Aug. 28, 1987) extracted at http://www.suttonelms.org.uk:

…But though I normally resent dramatists who appropriate the lives of famous figures of the past only to distort them for their own ends, I found myself increasingly warming to this vital, scatological drama, now receiving an exuberant production by the RSC in The Pit.

It is certainly not a play for the squeamish. The language is persistently and inventively foul and, without a hint of historical evidence, Mr Dear has turned Hogarth into a man of rampant and decidedly esoteric sexual tastes. But the play is so outrageous in its invention, Hogarth’s reputation so secure, that it is hard to imagine the play doing the artist’s memory permanent harm, more profitable to sit back and enjoy an evening of good, dirty and surprisingly thought-provoking fun.

More photos and notes at the Michael Kitchen site.

With Janet McTeer and Jeremy Irons in a photograph published in The Sunday Times (July 6, 1986):

Surprised to learn from A Day in the Life of Foyle’s War that in the same year Michael Kitchen starred in Spring Awakening with Peter Firth, the two also appeared in the National Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. MK played Benvolio opposite Peter Firth’s Romeo when the production first opened, and then later replaced Firth in the lead role.

Prior to appearing in The Russia House, Michael Kitchen had already acted in several other works written by Tom Stoppard during his years at the National Theatre.  One of the most successful of these plays was On the Razzle, which opened at the National to rave reviews.

From the website of the Hippodrome in Bristol where the production made a stop:

With a lesser cast it would not have worked, said the critic. “Timing, presentation and sheer momentum are everything and the National have a magnificent line-up which savours every idiotic nuance and tosses puns around like firecrackers.  …Michael Kitchen and Harold Innocent round off a remarkable comedy team.”

Among the comments in response to a review of Foyle’s War S1-6 on openlettersmonthly.com:

… your post did remind me of the first time I saw (a very much younger) Michael Kitchen… He was playing the roguish waiter type character and had the refrain ‘classic’ which cropped up throughout the show. I can hear him saying it now. His timing was spot on and he made that one word mean a thousand different things. He hasn’t had anywhere near the recognition he deserves. – Alex

Castmate John Challis wrote last month in the Birmingham Mail:

The villagers are used to film crews and some of Foyle’s War was shot there. Indeed, Michael Kitchen’s funny old face smiled enigmatically down from the wall as we spoke our lines. I worked with him at the National Theatre in Tom Stoppard’s On The Razzle and he recently got in touch with me, which was a lovely surprise.

More about MK’s character, Melchior, and some of the play’s pun-filled dialogue in this blogspot.com post.

Cartoon: William “Bill” Hewison, Punch

Bedroom Farce program

Photos above from the app, “50 Years at the National Theatre”, released by the National on the occasion of its half-century anniversary. Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce, described by the playwright as having “everything about bedrooms but copulation, something which I believe is hardly practiced in the British bedroom anyway,” premiered at the NT in 1977 with Michael Kitchen in the role of Nick.  A phenomenal hit, the play is credited with reversing the fortunes of the organization during a difficult period:

The National was at one of its low ebbs – it had had a lot of technical problems and a lot of bad press, and people were asking, ‘Why is all the national funding going to this?’ I think what Bedroom Farce did at the time – which was really nice – was to provide the building, if not with its first, certainly with one of its earliest big hits. It certainly lifted the morale: it was during that terrible period of the strikes, and all that business with pickets. There had been a lot of very ugly feeling around.”

– quote by Alan Ayckbourn from his official website

Theater flyer for the play:

Robert Cushman wrote in The Observer (Mar. 20, 1977):

The ritziest room is occupied by the creamily witty Polly Adams, and by Michael Kitchen, not hitherto my idea of a light comedian, who plays a brilliant variation on his usual thrusting young executive, this one being laid up with a bad back. His misadventures (it hurts when he moves and people keep disturbing him) raise the loudest laughs of the evening.

When the play opened on Broadway in 1979, MK was one of two original cast members who didn’t reprise their respective roles, but he did return for the 1980 ITV broadcast, also a huge success.  How fun it would be to watch MK act out the antics of a “self-important businessman” writhing in pain from a pulled back muscle. There are 11 color photos from the TV production on the RexFeatures site.

(In the 2002 London revival, Nick was played by Nigel Lindsay, presumably with a better accent than the pseudo-Texan one he adopted as Clayton Del Mar in High Castle.)

Quite a feat that during the spring/summer 1977 season at the Lyttelton Theatre, Michael Kitchen played Nick in Bedroom Farce while also portraying Trotsky in State of Revolution, two roles that couldn’t have been more different.