It is always sheer joy to watch Dominic Allen perform. A masterful character actor, his new solo show tells the story of Thomas Paine: pamphleteer, revolutionary, corset-maker. Crucial to the colonial uprising against Britain that would eventually lead to the independence of the United States, John Adams once remarked that without Paine’s pen, ‘the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.’ I confess that I knew relatively little of Paine’s life before this show: now I’m struggling to understand why I hadn’t been taught about him before. Allen’s work is a wonderfully exhilarating, entertaining historical rollercoaster packed with colourful characters that follows Paine from Norfolk to America to the streets of revolutionary Paris to the Bastille and back again.
Allen himself is charismatic and energetic. Each character he plays is immediately recognisable from his carefully considered mannerisms and vocal changes: every little gesture conveys a depth of meaning. He positively explodes onto the stage to begin the show and never once does his energy falter. It is hard not to be pulled into his world of fire and revolution as he conveys Paine’s message with an amazing amount of passion.
Full of flair, the writing is uproarious and tender in equal measures. Allen’s script possesses the same superb balance of humour and emotion as his arguably most famous fringe show, Outland. There is something missing, however, from The Bridge That Tom Built that Outland possessed which made it a perfect show. Though undeniably entertaining, there was little in the way of a powerful underlying message in Bridge. It is always great to cheer for Freedom and the Rights of Man and there can be no doubt that even today these are contentious issues across the globe - it is strange, then, that such themes were locked into a very specific historical context. Bridge is a biopic and loses some of Paine’s universal message as a result.
That said, every second of the production is a pleasure to behold. Wonderfully performed, directed and written, this is a vibrant historical insight into the life of a man whom one should not pass by.