A Common Man: The Bridge that Tom Built
The Flanagan Collective and Dominic Allen
From 02 August 2017 to 28 August 2017
Review by Graeme Strachan
There's a distinct pleasure and comfort to be found when a performance hits a technical snag, and not only do the performers not let it phase them, they incorporate it into the act.
Having leapt upon an upturned bucket only for his spotlight to fizzle out, Dominic Allen cried out for a candle, then snatched a prop from his desk and lit it with a cigarette lighter. It was a bizarre moment, yet rescued by quick thinking, and a series of witty comments that set the audience at ease and raised the first of many, many laughs of the evening.
Allen sets out to tell the story of famed writer, revolutionary, political thinker and aspiring pontifex (in the literal non-religious, bridgemaking sense) Thomas Paine. Charting his life from his meager upbringing as a corset-maker's son, through his daliances as a customs and excise officer, to his awakenings as a philosophical revolutionary, on a path that would lead him through sticky situations in Britain, America and even France.
It's a daring and electric performance, giving a whistlestop tour of the famous faces of the day, save perhaps that of Edmund Burke, who remains mercifully forgotten in all the glorious palaver.
As noted earlier, while brimming with historical information, it's also a resolutely funny performance, wringing every drop of ironic humour from the period and the personalities on display. As some of the comic aspects of Paine's life practically write themselves, such as his attempt to gain employment under Captain Death on a ship named The Terrible, this isn't an arduous stretch of Allen's abilites as a charming and endearing host. Nor does this stop the fewer more serious moments from holding weight. As contrasted to the light tone of the rest, the various tragedies that befell Paine seem all the sourer.
Frankly, there are barely superlatives enough to make plain how much fun this was. I'd see it again in a heartbeat, and so should you, unless you're Edmund Burke.