Eight hundred years after King John gave his seal to Magna Carta, a new play Magna Carta, written and directed by Kate Glover highlights the intrigue, plots and squabbles in a tantalisingly little known reign.
The play tells the dramatic story of the struggle between King John and his rebel barons. We burst into a rowdy House of Commons where the great seventeenth century lawyer Edward Coke is in full flow. It is he who realises the significance of the charter after hundreds of years of neglect. (Shakespeare had not bothered to include it in his play KING JOHN.) Coke leads us into the thirteenth century where we meet King John and his court.
John is portrayed as a complex and brilliant man, albeit with a dark side, who suffers tremendous angst at the loss of his French possessions. His determination to get the lands back leads to swingeing taxes on his subjects. Resentment of this grows as suspicion of John deepens: the nagging question as to who killed Arthur of Brittany runs through the play, with the implication that it might well have been his Uncle John....
A plot to murder John by the shadowy baronial thugs Eustace de Vesci and Robert FitzWalter is scuppered, but tension continues to mount.
The barbarous treatment of the once powerful de Briouze family and of the gentle hermit Peter of Wakefield, coupled with the fall of London to rebel barons, engineered by the enigmatic Serlo the Mercer, Mayor of London, leads to the denouement in a “field called Runnymede.” It is here that a furious John, after days of negotiations, brokered by Archbishop Stephen Langton, finally gives his seal to the Charter. It is left to Edward Coke to point to the iconic significance of this great event in future years.