Ciarán Barata-Hynes is the writer and main actor of the play Magna Carta which has recently been converted to stage at the Parrot Pub and the Ebury Hotel by the Canterbury Shakespeare Festival. He did his undergraduate studies at Falmouth Universit, reading English Literature, and did his Master’s at Canterbury Christ Church University in Mythology. InQuire had the opportunity to speak to him about the upcoming performance of his play, his practice as a writer, and how the university experience helped him.
IQ: Could you tell us what the play is about and how the historical background came into its making?
CBH: The play is a microscope look at John in his process of having to sign the Magna Carta. It opens up with him being presented with the document and it ends with him signing it. It is mostly a series of scenes of him talking to different individuals in his life that are loosely based on people that were around in his lifetime. I have decided to write it in iambic pentameter because I think it lends a certain gravity to historical stories, it almost gives it a timelessness. The play doesn’t bother hugely with how historically accurate it is. It is more about the nature of power, monarchy, and democracy. The play frames itself around the pros and cons of absolute leadership, the philosophy that goes behind that and what people have excused themselves of doing by the belief that they are supposed to be in charge.
IQ: What attracted you to this story?
CBH: I wanted to tackle the stereotype of the bad King that John has built. One thing that always fascinated me about King John was the fact that even though he was bad at his job, he believed that it was his job. God has decided that he is the King. Therefore, Magna Carta is not only taking his power away but also destroying the idea that the King can’t be questioned.
IQ: Do you have any concerns when it comes to the audience’s reaction?
CBH: I hope he comes across as human. I think the best villains are the ones who are shown their humanity. He is painted in a harsh light, but he is not a monster. If anything, he will come across as small by the end of the play. I think the pace of each scene of the play will change just in time that the audience won’t get bored. I am aware that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. I think the strength of the play lies in its cast because if you don’t have actors who can carry these conversations and make them real and interesting, the audience will be bored.
IQ: Was it difficult to switch to be the main actor instead of the writer?
CBH: I feel like I have slipped into the role very easily. Elliot and I have had a director-actor relationship for a long time now, so we work together very well. It was definitely easier for me to play John than bringing someone new in. There are quite a lot of lines as well and I have written to, so it was easier for me to perform them.
IQ: What kind of writer would you describe yourself?
CBH: I think discovering what kind of writer you are is a lifelong process. I am drawn to the weird and I hate structuralism. I don’t like the idea of having set rules about how you are supposed to do things. I think that is one of the reasons why I didn’t join the academia, because so much of it is labelling things, and once you have an opinion on something it’s difficult to come back from it. I like to mess around and mix things up. But to break the rules, you need to know them and that is where doing a degree in English or reading a lot plays a part. Genre is just a way to help you figure out what you like, it doesn’t have to dictate your style of writing. Theatre allows you to do odd things. It allows you to introduce a character that wouldn’t exist at certain time skips without the audience automatically being
confused. When you are in a theatre you just kind of go with it and lose yourself with the story.
IQ: How did the university experience help you in your career and what advice would you give?
CBH: It expanded my knowledge of the kinds of writing that are out there, and what writing is and can be. I kept writing my stories during university and that kept me in a pattern of doing something like this, because when I left university I carried on writing. Doing an English degree is great because it helps you discover what kind of writer you want to be. Depending on where you are networking can be really helpful for your career. Don’t worry about finishing things as much as you do. People have this image in their minds that one day they will get an amazing idea, they will sit down and write it but until then they don’t have many ideas that are good enough to be written. That’s not how it works. You just write and write, and it doesn’t matter how many things you have unfinished. As far as acting is concerned, don’t wait for other people to hand you apart. If there is something you want to do, find a way of making it yourself. Just do it.
Images courtesy of Studio Holder, CantsShakeFest/Twitter and Visit Canterbury