The Time of Our Lies
Reviewed – 1st August 2019
“a memorable and haunting tribute to both the historian and his work”
It’s not often that audiences see the dramatisation of a history book on stage, so playwright Bianca Bagatourian is to be congratulated for her courage in taking on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History Of The United States. And it’s important to note that if Howard Zinn had not been such a remarkable historian living through several remarkable events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Bagatourian’s play, The Time Of Our Lies, might not be such a satisfying piece of theatre. The show at the Park Theatre, skillfully directed by Ché Walker, delivers a memorable and haunting tribute to both the historian and his work.
The Time Of Our Lies is an hour or so of storytelling and beautifully performed songs in an empty space presented by a highly competent ensemble of six actors who switch easily between a range of American accents, and a range of other languages as well. The seventh performer, representing Zinn himself, was ably taken on at very short notice by the brilliant Martina Laird, stepping in for an indisposed Daniel Benzali. Laird held the audience spellbound as she recounted stories from Zinn’s life, including service as a bombardier in World War Two, and being knocked unconscious by police batons while attending a workers’ rights demonstration as a seventeen year old in New York City.
This is not just a series of stories (and songs) strung together, vivid and compelling though they are. Zinn’s distinguishing feature of his life as a historian, is presenting the stories of people living through catastrophic times, told in their own words. Hence the importance of the moment in which the act of being knocked unconscious turns Zinn into a conscious observer of historically significant events. Later on, this consciousness leads to his determination to support the actions of his African American students during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The play dramatises these events effectively and then goes one step further — it ties all these narratives together under Zinn’s overarching belief that you should never believe what your government is telling you. In his experience, government always lies — and often for petty, self-serving reasons — and it is only historians who can sort out the truth from the lies. And this is why Bagatourian’s play succeeds — she takes this powerful idea and dramatises it with eyewitness accounts of important historical events, including Zinn’s own.
In short, although going to a show about a history book might not seem the most enjoyable way to spend an evening, do yourself a favour and go. If you can find an American to take along to explain why some of the characters in the play are so significant, so much the better. But if not, you can always read A People’s History Of The United States. Both Zinn’s book, and Bagatourian’s play, are well worth your time.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Tomas Turpie
The Time of Our Lies
Park Theatre until 10th August
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: