2016 King Lear

(back to Stage)

King Lear


Here we are with the first King Lear’s review, with a very good comment on Oliver’s performance!!

“[…] Alongside the actor who plays his legitimate brother Edgar (Oliver Johnstone) who portrays an exceptional representation of the madness of ‘Poor Tom’, these two are certainly future stars in the Shakespearean acting world. […]”

And here a second one on the same day:

“[…] What makes this particular production excel, however, is the strength of the entire cast and the epic scope of Gregory Doran’s staging. Paapa Essiedu, fresh from playing Hamlet for the RSC, is fantastic as the villainous bastard Edmund, while there is a definite roundness to the performances of Antony Byrne, David Troughton and Oliver Johnstone as Kent, Gloucester and Edgar. […]”

“[…] But the standout performances for me come from Papa Essiedu (recently a triumphant Hamlet) as Edmund and Oliver Johnstone as Edgar.  Johnstone conveys in a way many actors cannot the strained artificiality of Edgar’s disguise as Poor Tom, so that we never lose sight of the fact that he is Gloucester’s son. […]”


  • telegraph.co.uk by Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph – Thursday 1 September 2016 – 4*

“[…] Full marks to Oliver Johnstone as his manipulated brother Edgar, brought to the state of a shivering wretch in a loincloth. […]”

“[…] In addition to this Gregory Doran […] has the best of the actors in the current ensemble to cherry-pick and he does this with great skill. […] Oliver Johnstone who has often been given prominent roles in RSC productions is better here (as Edgar) than in anything else I have seen him in. […]”

  • livetheatreuk.co.uk by Stephen Collins, LiveTheatreUK – Thursday 1 September 2016 – 3* – this is a long one, but worth to be shared!

“[…] at Stratford Upon Avon David Troughton, Pappa Essiedu and Oliver Johnstone make a powerful case for renaming King Lear. The House Of Gloucester seems more apt for this RSC production, directed by Gregory Doran, which gets all of its emotional heft from the three Gloucester characters, the Earl and his sons, Edmund and Edgar. Essiedu is faultless as the scheming bastard, and Johnstone and Troughton are heart-breaking as the central victims of Essiedu’s machinations. […] And it is augmented and supported by outstanding turns from David Troughton as his deceived father and Oliver Johnstone as his betrayed brother. […]  He(Troughton) makes the scene where he encounters Lear a miracle of subtlety and his reunion with Johnstone’s impeccable Edgar is impossibly touching, the personification of healed grief.[…] Johnstone, too, is exceptional. His Edgar is sensititive and sensible; his Poor Tom a triumph of feral uncertainty, blind faith and, eventually, filial devotion. His scenes with his abused and tragic father are the most complex, the most touching and the most affecting of the evening. Johnstone has a natural affinity with the language of Shakespeare and he manages to be both poetical and meaningful throughout his speeches. Everyone wants Edgar to be their dutiful son – even when he is scurrying around the forest in Poor Tom mode. His performance calls not for pity, as so many Edgars do, but for understanding, and it is all the better for that. […] His (Essiedu) performance, along with Troughton’s and Johnstone’s, makes this a King Lear to remember. […] While Essiedu and Johnstone promise much, the RSC needs to be always about excellence in Shakespeare performance […]”

  • jonathanbaz.com by Jonathan Baz – Friday 2 September 2016 – 5*, this is an excellent one!

“[…] As Edgar, Oliver Johnstone is tremendously exciting, using every inch of the stage, blood stained, conveying a manic craziness to his very toenails. Johnstone’s physical acting is bold & top notch. Concealing his true identity to his blinded father, you can almost smell the frustration and pain from Johnstone. Head in hands his body expresses as much as his words do. […]”

“[…] As for Edgar’s first appearance, kicking a football around in insouciant contrast to his clenchedly angry brother, character instantly rises to the surface here too. […] The only hope lies is in ourselves: in Kent, bluff and angrily Yorkshire, in the camp, helpless Fool (Graham Turner) again using northernness to mock his master; in naive faithful Gloucester, and above all in Edgar: a particularly vivid, moving performance by Oliver Johnstone, who handles the unnervingly modernist Poor-Tom madness while maintaining in moments aside a touching, decent-schoolboy, dismay. I have rarely seen the clifftop scene more moving. “Thy life’s a miracle” says Edgar and his father, “Henceforth I’ll bear affliction”. It is the pivot of the play, the one gleam of hope, the affirmation of mere naked endurance. The gods won’t help, so men must endure their going forth.[…]”

  • theguardian.com by Michael Billington, The Guardian – Friday 2 September 2016 – 4*

“[…] Doran’s production has strength in depth. […]  Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar addresses the problem of the character’s inexplicable failure, in his persona as Poor Tom, to reveal himself to Gloucester by preparing to shed his disguise only to be suddenly thwarted. […]”

“[…] Yet there is also an elegance in simplicity with Gloucester’s outlawed son, Edgar (Oliver Johnstone) sitting on a stage that is empty except for a withered tree in the background. […]”

“[…] The acting overall was excellent, and the secondary actors made this a very strong ensemble performance. […] Oliver Johnstone as Edgar (and Tom O’Bedlam) had the right balance of madness and confidence, and his scenes with David Troughton’s brilliantly pathetic Gloucester were memorable. […]”

  • ft.com by Ian Shuttleworth – Friday 2 September 2016 – 4*

“[…] In the subplot, David Troughton deliberately keeps his Earl of Gloucester on a simmer, not pulling the focus away either from Sher or from his own stage sons, both of whom are first-rate. Oliver Johnstone as Edgar is plausible both in his mad disguise and when he breaks character to share his agonised testimony with us; […]”

“[…] The most piercingly moving performance, however – and this play fails if you aren’t moved by it – comes from David Troughton’s magnificent, towering Gloucester, with particularly strong support from Oliver Johnstone as Edgar and Paapa Essiedu as his bastard son Edmund. […]”

“[…] Oliver Johnstone makes an excellent foil to him as Edgar – open, likeable and forgiving, the last a quality sorely lacking in most of the characters in this play. […]”

“[…] Gloucester stumbling on with Edgar after that was one of the most moving parts of the whole play, by far. Overall, the direction, by Gregory Doran was good, and the acting was too, especially from Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar. […]”

“[…] Paapa Essiedu and Oliver Johnstone as his sons Edmund and Edgar respectively reflect the play’s contending forces of ruthless egotism and suffering compassion, with the former entertainingly manipulating his gullible father while the latter leads the despairing, eyeless old man on his last journey to a mutual comfort born of filial love. […]”

  • weekendnotes.co.uk by Alison Brinkworth, Weekend Notes – (date?) – 4* – another good, long one!

“[…] While Sher has magnetism on stage, he is matched by the trio in a subplot of another dysfunctional father and child relationship – that of the Earl of Gloucester and his sons, Edmund and Edgar. […] Playing his wronged half-brother, Edgar, is Oliver Johnstone, who can also be seen in this season’s Cymbeline. Johnstone’s scenes with his father, Gloucester (David Troughton), are particularly touching with heavy doses of sentiment. […] Williams is part of a well chosen, excellent cast that features some of the most impressive rising talent of the moment, like Essiedu, Johnstone and Natalie Simpson as Cordelia, alongside experienced safe hands that are still a joy to watch. […]”

  • dailymail.co.uk by Georgina Brown, DailyMail – 10 September 2016 – 4*

“[…] Strikingly, when Edgar (an intelligent and robust performance from Oliver Johnstone) kicks a football around with his mates, he excludes Edmund. […]”

“[…] The large cast being padded out with unpaid extras a community chorus means we get various scenes of the streets filled with starving beggars, which makes Edgar’s decision to disguise himself as Poor Tom make more sense as he really could get lost among them, and brings into focus the fact that while in power Lear really did cut himself off from what his people needed. Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar is neither geek nor idiot as usually painted, more someone good-natured who’s not really been paying attention to who his half-brother really is, and so can easily be fooled by him. […] I definitely perked up for Edgar’s return as Poor Tom in an interestingly bouncy loincloth; he was a bit too enthusiastically covered in mud for my liking but I guess if your job is to smear makeup on Oliver Johnstone’s entire body it might be difficult to know when to stop. […]”

“[…] Oliver Johnstone is excellent as Edgar […]”

“[…] Oliver Johnstone’s portrayal of Edgar is completely believable, engrossing and sympathetic. […]”

“[…] His scenes with the unbeknownst to him Edgar (Oliver Johnstone) are particularly touching.[…]”

“[…] When Edgar (played by Oliver Johnstone) pretends to be Poor Tom, we see the starkest contrast between a nobleman and a man reduced to ‘living in the gutter’, albeit pretend. Johnstone’s portrayal of Tom’s madness is both impressive and highly disturbing, particularly as the idea suggested is that we could all be him. […]”

“[…] The parallel reunion between Gloucester, who only sees clearly once he has lost his sight, and his true loving son Edgar, forced to disguise himself as a mad beggar when Edmund convinces his father he’s the villain, is equally moving thanks to Oliver Johnstone’s resourceful Edgar, proving ultimate filial devotion as his father, like Lear, achieves closure at life’s end. […]”

“[…] Lear is adored by all the play’s moral characters, albeit that love contorted can turn bad. […] As York’s faithful disguised son, Oliver Johnstone suggests nobility, complexity and suffering. […]”

“[…] and Oliver Johnstone, topping even his sensual Iachimo in Cymbeline, was a gullible and then truly heroic Edgar, both in his Poor Tom disguise and his knight-protector role, duelling his half-brother Edmund to Edmund’s death. (“The wheel is come full circle.”) Sometimes at the end of King Lear I feel that the remaining world will not be safe in Edgar’s hands but at the end of this production I felt Oliver Johnstone had taken his father’s words into his heart: «So distribution should undo excess,And each man have enough.» Long Live King Edgar!”

“[…] The easier therefore for him to believe in the “foul fiend” invented by that sometimes awkward figure Poor Tom, confidently played here by Oliver Johnstone. […]”

“[…] There are other brilliant, medal-worthy performances here too. […] His brother Edgar is played by a Oliver Johnstone with real verve; his turn as the madness-feigning Poor Tom, shivering, semi-naked, debased, is so convincing you feel uncomfortably exposed watching him. […]”

itsonlywordsweb.wordpress.com by itsonlywordsweb – 2 October 2016

“[…] I enjoyed seeing Oliver Johnson [mispelling] playing one of the good guys as much as I enjoyed his playing Iachimo in Cymbeline.  I thought he showed the anguish of a son watching his father suffer and the pain of watching evil thrive exceptionally well. […]”

“[…] Oliver Johnstone, who played Edgar was fantastic and ended the play with a strong soliloquy overflowing with emotion. […]”

“[…] There are other excellent performances, too. Oliver Johnstone was equally powerful and effective as Edgar. […]”

Reviews after the broadcast on 12 October night:

“[…] A pleasant surprise came in the form of the two brothers, Edgar (Oliver Johnstone) and Edmund (Paapa Essiedu). Johnstone brought Edgar’s initial innocence and boyishness to the fore, making his transformation into poor Tom all the more shocking. Though at times it was uncomfortable to watch, this only made his extreme physical change all the more impressive. […]”


“[…] His excellent performance is matched by that of Oliver Johnstone as Edgar, who grows from a Tim-nice-but-dim figure at the start, to nobility by the end. Edgar is one of the few survivors at the end of this most unremittingly bleak tragedy, which has a tendency to reduce its audience to emotional wrecks. […]”

“[…] and Oliver Johnstone as Edgar, the legitimate son of Gloucester also gave sterling performances. […]”


Reviews of the RSC’s Winter season at the Barbican.

“[…] Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar suggests again that he is a young man with an exciting career ahead of him. […]”


“[…] Such dramatic control feels lacking in Graham Turner’s Fool, but is there in spades in the Edgar-Poor Tom of Oliver Johnstone, who gives one of the best interpretations of the latter incarnation that I can remember. […]”

“[…] In a similar vein, Oliver Johnstone’s transformation from Edgar to Poor Tom in King Lear was nothing short of awe-inspiring. […]”