It’s not every day an actor’s audition hinges more on his ability to whip up an omelet than memorize a monologue, but that was somewhat the case for Samuel Roukin, one of the stars of the National Theatre’s production of The Kitchen, coming to a Campbell Hall HD screen near you. While Roukin has worked as a waiter, kitchen porter, barman, and restaurant manager, what he says most helped him to prepare for the play were rehearsals with consultant Jeremy Lee, an esteemed London chef at Blueprint Café. “He put us through our paces, taught us knife skills, basically turned us from actors into kitchen help,” Roukin explained. “He got us louder and quicker.”
That’s crucial, as Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen, a searing (pardon the pun) drama, captures one dynamic day with a 30-plus-person cast in what Roukin bills “a melting pot of many nationalities.” While the play premiered in 1959 (and this production is set in 1957), Roukin doesn’t doubt it’s still very relevant, insisting it asks, “How much will you tolerate in terms of hard work? What is there more than this, working a 12-hour, 14-hour day every day? People still do that. What makes a human being question why?”
Hard work certainly isn’t foreign to Roukin, who has appeared in films like Bright Star and Happy-Go-Lucky, but The Kitchen certainly expanded the traditional acting requirements. “On Sundays when I wasn’t rehearsing, I’d go into a bakery and train,” said Roukin, who plays a pastry chef. “I’d be busy whisking and making scones.” So does he actually like to cook? “I like to eat,” he laughed. “I do enjoy cooking, although I’m not traditionally a baker at home. But I make a very good scone now, and I made a great red velvet cake that I took into rehearsal. I made lots of new friends that day. It got pretty competitive in rehearsal as people started cooking. I never had eaten so many cupcakes in my life.”
One of the tricks of the play is the actors go through all the actions of cooking, using real tools, utensils, and gas-fueled ovens, but no real food. “It’d be chaos if we had real food,” Roukin admitted, “a health-and-safety nightmare. Plus, if you used real food, the audience would be obsessed with the chef chopping an onion, to see if he’d cut his finger off. It’s mentally stretching, for in order for the audience to believe you have food in front of you, you’ve really got to see it as an actor, because if you don’t, they don’t.”
As for other acting treats, Roukin had a small role as a Snatcher in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. “It was a rise. It’s become iconic, and you feel privileged and excited to be in it,” he enthused. “If you can’t have fun with a wig, false teeth, and a wand running around in the forest, there’s something wrong with you.”
See if you can stand the HD heat by seeing The Kitchen on Thursday, November 17, 7:30 p.m. at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Tickets are $18 general, $10 students. Call (805) 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.