And who greater than Tom Paine, master of polemic and pamphlet, free thinker, philosophical founder of liberalism and American democracy, to be the riveting hero of its latest production, A New World?
But you may find here less a play, more an overlong history lesson; a sprawling presentation lasting three nearly hours which follows Paine’s increasingly influential contribution to the American Revolution via his first famous pamphlet ‘Common Sense’, to his later years in Old Europe where he tried to introduce the principles outlined for the New World into the chaotic and bloody confusion that was the French Revolution.
Trevor Griffiths originally wrote a five-hour script for Richard Attenborough who planned a film of Paine’s life. Unsurprisingly, the film has never been made and, cut and reconstituted, the play now lacks dramatic tempo. Energy and fervour, often absent in the first act, arrive latterly, injected by the lively James Garnon as Danton while John Light’s Paine is never less than earnest. Odd, uncomfortable stabs at contemporary humour jar with the earthy realism of the piece and some of the faux French accents descend directly from ‘Allo ‘Allo. The use of Benjamin Franklin’s character as the narrator who stitches the gappy tale together is peculiar but the large cast dance and sing born of an enthusiastic sympathy with the subject matter.
Paine is honoured and remembered here and worthily so. A wonderful film remains to be made and a better play to be written. But go to the Globe if you can. Remember the words that Tom Paine set down and principles of liberty he so brilliantly espoused. Sometimes it seems we need them more and more.
For further information on Thomas Paine's enduring impact, read our free feature article by David Nash published in our June issue The Gain from Thomas Paine
For an insight into how Paine forms a link between the two great revolutions of the 18th century, read Tom Paine in France
For further information about the impact of Paine’s American pamphlets published between December 1776 and December 1783 under the general title of The American Crisis, read Paine's American Pamphlets