Victor Hugo once said “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” It’s a line quoted in A Common Man… but I include it here because it neatly summarises what I found most irresistible about this show – its incredible timeliness. At a moment when the Voice of America is that of a overfed, overgrown narcissistic toddler, carelessly tweeting the world step-by-step towards Armageddon, it’s a valuable thing to be reminded that it was not always so. When the USA was born, when the Declaration of Independence was framed and signed, the voices of power spoke for liberty and equality and loudest amongst those voices was Tom Paine, the shock jock of the 1700s.
Paine is a force of nature
Paine’s name may not be familiar to many in this country but, as the son of a Norfolk corset maker who rose to help birth a nation, his story is a great one and deserves a powerful teller. Thankfully one-man revolution Dominic Allen is more than equal to the task. His Paine is a force of nature – iron-willed, foul-mouthed, his formidable intellect spiced with a delightful wild-eyed passion that drive him across continents and made him the voice of a new world.
With the minimum of props and set, Allen vividly sketches Paine’s life story and the cast of colourful characters that populated it. From the uptight George Washington to a gloriously mannered General John Burgoyne to a chillingly-familiar Silas Dean, each has their own distinct physicality and voice which Allen switches seamlessly between. As so often happens, the story may not have the happiest of endings but the grandness of the tale, it’s pivotal place in world history and the performer’s obvious affection for his subject keep it uplifting all the same. Crucially this is achieved without losing sight of the underlying message of respect for your fellow man which is Paine’s true legacy.
As Paine’s fellow founding father Thomas Jefferson said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” With A Common Man…, Dominic Allen offers an engaging, amusing way to do just that. Tom Paine may have built just a single bridge but Edinburgh has many – I urge you to cross one, find your way to George Street and see this show.