The Bridge That Tom Built[author-post-rating](4/5 Stars)

An enraptured audience watch agog as Dominic Allen twists history to hilarious and heartfelt effect. The Bridge That Tom Built follows the extraordinary life of Thomas Paine, political theorist, revolutionary, outspoken man about town. He begins shouting almost immediately. It’s Tom Paine, already declaiming wildly as he strides out from behind an large American flag that spans the small C nova stage. Clearly there is no time to waste for this bombastic orator.

Bounding deftly between spectacular speeches and unexpectedly arresting pathos, Dominic Allen leads the audience along Paine’s turbulent timeline with raucous aplomb. Channelling a hyperactive Pied Piper, Allen reals off reams of touching and uproarious text at speed, leaving us sprinting enthusiastically to keep pace. He moves frenetically between a cavalcade of quirky characters: politely lisping pirates, gratuitously effeminate generals and fabulous frenchmen all swell the ranks of his curious ensemble.

Amongst the audience interactions and hilariously haphazard deviations from script there is a hidden lyricism to Paine’s words; a stealthy poetry that never overwhelms but in fact provided a palpable depth to this exceptional performance. Later in the piece the atmosphere takes a swerve for the sombre. Several French necks find themselves attending last minute appointments with Madame Guillotine. With simplistic mime, and minor light and sound effects, these symbolic decapitations seem surreally graphic. You can almost see the sinews sever.

It’s a testimony to Allen’s theatrical finesse that this challenging tonal shift not only appears fitting but also adds emotional weight to this consistently side-splitting show. The Bridge That Tom Built is a blisteringly funny affair, performed with joyous abandon and a fervent historical affection.

The Bridge That Tom Built is playing at C nova as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until the 26th of August. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Fringe Website.