(This interview is one of six conducted by Peter Ansorge and Michael Coveney, in part 2 of the "National Service" series. Photo not credited.)
Michael Kitchen won the Emile Littler Award at RADA for an 'outstanding talent and aptitude for the professional theatre' - and also because he owed the bursary £40, an amount conveniently covered by the £50 prize. Since leaving RADA in 1969, he has quickly established a high reputation both on television and in the theatre as an actor of unique, instinctive resourcefulness and volcanic potential. He joins the National to play one part only, Moritz in Spring Awakening, one of the greatest plays ever written about adolescence. It is a difficult part for an actor of 25 years, although Kitchen, after one week of rehearsal, was finding problems not with Moritz's age, but with the youthful mentality of the part: "He's a very young head. I mean he only just learns how kids are born and he goes and shoots himself. It's so sad. Just a year ago I wouldn't have had much trouble with that sort of age, having done it so many times. But over the past year I've played much older parts and generally feel much older; I might not look it, I might not sound it, I just do."
In the past year he has appeared at the Royal Court in Howard Brenton's Magnificence and on television in two BBC Plays For Today (Hell's Angels by Hugo Charteris and The Reporters by Arthur Hopcraft) and as Branwell Bronte in a Yorkshire TV series. A trademark of the typical Kitchen part is a boyish vulnerability which allows him to be bullied and abused, a process which may provoke a response of either tyrranical, headlong rage or grieved, lip-biting petulance. In Magnificence he played a trendy left-winger who is eventually embroiled in a fearsome encounter with the more politically passionate central character; a few years ago, in Barry Reckord's Skyvers (at the Theatre Upstairs and later, the Round House) he played a schoolboy whose instincts for standing apart from the rest of the gang qualified him for the brutal assaults of both masters and schoolmates. Now, in Spring Awakening, he plays an outsider driven to suicide by the facts of life as manifested in a repressive society, facts too extraordinary to be managed by Moritz's restless imagination.
Has Kitchen himself ever experienced the loner's condition? "In my first two years at grammar school I suffered that sort of thing. I don't know why, except that is was because I was very cocky, which may have seemed unpleasant. That sorted itself out. But I can remember exactly how I felt, so there's not much problem in recreating that." The cockiness has probably been replaced by the sense of calm self-assurance he exudes when talking about the pattern of his career. There is no question whatever of having joined the National in order to wallow in company spirit or waste time studying the greats while lurking in the background. "I was always determined to be careful about how I went into either the National or the RSC, if ever they were to ask me. Because of the story that everybody knows - you know, that people get lost in them, never come out alive, and so on. The fact that I am doing just this one part in this one play is pretty much on the terms I'd have wanted. I'm convinced that if I spent a year or less in any company, anywhere, playing minor roles, that wouldn't help me at all. I speak from no experience of ever having done this, but from the experiences of having seen what's happened to other people, both in their acting and in their personalities. I've never watched other people's acting to any great extent; I've never understood that argument of going on as a spear-carrier in order to watch Gielgud, or whatever. Of course you'd pick up a few things, but that wouldn't take a year."
Fortune has been kind in allowing the luxury of this attitude, as Kitchen is quick to point out. "I've never really had any great choice in what I've done. Things I would have chosen to do have just turned up exactly in the right order. I've been told to expect a really naff patch in a few years time, around the 30 mark, which I've got to expect anyway; it can't possibly go on as easily and as cushily as it has so far."