A Common Man: The Bridge That Tom Built

★★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
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A Common Man: The Bridge That Tom Built
Published 09 Aug 2017

Corset maker, pamphleteer, US founding father and French revolutionary, Thomas Paine followed an unlikely career path, and one which evidently continues to fascinate Dominic Allen. He's revived this biographical piece after an acclaimed run at last year's Fringe, having not yet made back the cost of the wig he wears throughout. The audience he deserves continues to elude him, but he's not unreasonable in hoping his persistence will pay off. Rarely are one man shows this colourful and engaging.

The performer knows his subject inside out and tells his story with humour and enthusiasm. This is far from a stuffy history lesson. For the sake of brevity, Paine is shown as a Zelig-like figure present throughout many of the key events that shaped the western world as we know it today. At a time when English men were bred to accept their lot in life, Paine was determined to place himself in situations where he ill belonged to bring about whatever improvements he could.

Transatlantic crossings are depicted with graphic queasiness as Paine traverses the globe declaring his country to be wherever liberty is not. The character inspires, makes us laugh and rails against his famous contemporaries. But "as you rise, so must you fall", and Paine's ultimate fate is rendered quietly heartbreaking, the man never having quite got his due both during and after his lifetime.