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THEATRE REVIEW - A New World, Globe Theatre

Trevor Griffiths knows everything there is to know about the Life of Thomas Paine and he has crammed as much as he could into A New World, directed by Dominic Dromgoole: the last play in the Globe Theatre’s Young Hearts season.
THEATRE REVIEW - A New World, Globe Theatre
Trevor Griffiths knows everything there is to know about the Life of Thomas Paine and he has crammed as much as he could into A New World, directed by Dominic Dromgoole: the last play in the Globe Theatre’s Young Hearts season. The story begins with Paine’s arrival in America in 1774 and follows the influence of his writings on the struggle against the British, the declaration of independence and the French revolution. It is impossible to be unimpressed by either Paine or his playwright-biographer; such is the scope of their ambition in their respective spheres. Griffiths resists the temptation to include sizeable chunks of Paine’s major works in his text and this renders the passages that do appear all the more inspiring. John Light tirelessly conveys Paine’s lifelong, unswerving commitment to liberty and justice in all his writing, wherever he was and regardless of the personal consequences: no mean feat as Light is rarely off stage in over 3 hours. Keith Bartlett offers a welcome linking narrative for Paine novices in the person firstly of Ben Franklin and, later, his ghost. James Garner is effective as Sam Adams and even more so as Danton, larger than life hero and eventual victim of the Terror in France. Dominic Dromgoole makes the most of his 2 dozen cast members and swells their number by fully exploiting the Yard area as a playing space to co-opt the groundlings. Stephen Warbeck’s songs serve both as chorus to and welcome breaks in the dense prose while the very wood of the Globe is a reassuringly sturdy platform on which nations rise and fall. The problem with the production is that it is quite simply too much of a good thing. Griffiths’ project began 20 years ago as a film script that ran at over 5 hours. 3 hours might seem like ruthless pruning but it makes for a very long evening at the Globe: there is insufficient differentiation between the American and French sections while a bewildering range of significant historical figures are either on stage too much or not enough for their presence to really resonate. Words are wilder and more whirling than ever in our 21st texting, tweeting century and this is the age of screen rather than page but this timely production, with its nod to Barack Obama, serves as a reminder of the power of oratory to alter the course of history. Writing really can make a difference – even if there is a bit too much of it in this play.

David Trennery

Tuesday 8 September, 2009

About the author

David Trennery is a free-lance writer.