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2 September 2016 – by Nicky Sweetland
I post the full interview, courtesy of London Weekly News
“It’s really satisfying to be doing one of Shakespeare’s, kind of, Indie Hits in Cymbeline and then a blockbuster in King Lear.” Oliver Johnstone talks to us about this year’s RSC London season
With the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this year, hardly a day has gone by without a production of one of the Bard’s stage masterpieces somewhere in the capital and with autumn fast approaching, there are even more offerings for fans of the works to look forward to, as the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) bring their annual season of plays to the Barbican Theatre, writes Nicky Sweetland.
The RSC have performed to record crowds in the playwright’s birthplace, Stratford upon Avon, this year and will bring their numerous successes to London in October. The season at the Barbican includes one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, Cymbeline, which will be performed from 31st October – 23rd December. It will be presented in rep with the epic, King Lear, in what is expected to be a hugely popular run at the Silk Street venue.
“King Lear starts with the division of the Kingdom and the pretty catastrophic effects of that, so you don’t have to look very far to see that in the broad sheets”
Acclaimed actor and Fulham resident, Oliver Johnstone has joined the company to take leading roles in both productions. Oliver is perhaps best known for playing Q’s geeky assistant in the blockbuster James Bond film, Skyfall. He last performed on the London stage in the RSC’s acclaimed production of Oppenheimer at the Vaudeville theatre and also starred in Teddy Ferrara at the Donmar Warehouse late last year. I caught up with Oliver in Stratford, where he is in the midst of performing Cymbeline, while still rehearsing King Lear.
Oliver told me: “Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s later and lesser known plays, but it’s this fascinating mash up of some of his earlier plays in many ways. A lot of the play derives its themes from some his more successful earlier works, so there are bits of Romeo and Juliet, Othello and maybe a bit of Hamlet in there as well. I’m playing a character called Iachimo, who is this Italian nobleman, who spends most of his time living a pretty hedonistic life, partying, gambling, drinking and womanising.”
An ineffectual Queen Cymbeline rules over a divided dystopian Britain. Consumed with grief at the death of two of her children, Cymbeline’s judgment is clouded. When Innogen, the only living heir, marries her sweetheart Posthumus in secret, an enraged Cymbeline banishes him.
“Postumous turns up into Iachimo’s world and proclaims that his woman is the most chased on the planet, which Iachimo disagrees with.” Oliver said “He believes anyone can be corrupted and so makes a wager with him, saying ‘I bet you on your diamond ring that I can seduce your wife in Britain’ and then sets about going to do that.”
In exile Innogen’s husband is tricked into believing she has been unfaithful to him and in an act of impulsive jealousy begins a scheme to have her murdered. Warned of the danger, Innogen runs away from court in disguise and begins a journey fraught with danger that will eventually reunite Cymbeline with a long-lost heir and reconcile the young lovers.
“Iachimo is often referred to as a mini Iago because he goes about getting in between lovers and deceiving them both. The way in which he differs from Iago quite significantly is that Iago is given no remorse or repentance at the end of Othello, where as Iachimo, when it comes to the end, he is hugely remorseful.” Said Oliver.
“I always find with Shakespeare that some of the language expresses emotion in a way that we, or certainly I can’t express today.”
It is customary for actors with the RSC, to perform shows in rep, which means they are part of more than one production at the same time. Oliver will also be playing the role of Edgar in King Lear, which opens on the 10th November at the Barbican.
Oliver said: “It’s really satisfying to be doing one of Shakespeare’s, kind of, Indie Hits in Cymbeline and then a blockbuster in King Lear.”
Director, Gregory Doran has faced a very different challenge when staging King Lear, with a need to make it fresh for audiences, who might have seen numerous previous adaptations.
Oliver said: “I’m pretty much dancing around in mud and a loin cloth for a lot of the play, which isn’t probably the first thing you think of when you think of Shakespeare.”
Double Olivier award winner Antony Sher plays the mad king in the famed tragedy, which Oliver feels is still very relevant to today’s society.
“King Lear starts with the division of the Kingdom and the pretty catastrophic effects of that, so you don’t have to look very far to see that in the broad sheets, but more than that, on a more personal and domestic level. I always find with Shakespeare that some of the language expresses emotion in a way that we, or certainly I can’t express today.” Oliver said.
Following a run at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Cymbeline will transfer to London’s Barbican for a limited season from 31 October – 17 December 2016 and King Lear runs from 10th November – 23rd December. If you would like any further information, you can visit the website https://www.rsc.org.uk