THE TIME OF OUR LIES Park Theatre 200, London
Jessye Romeo, Alvaro Fore, Claire Lebowitz King and Lana Joffrey   photo Tomas Turpie

Nominated for the Amnesty International 'Freedom of Expression' Award 2014, Bianca Bagatourian's The Time Of Our Lies explores the personal history of Howard Zinn, considered one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century whose legacy of his time as a serving soldier in the United States army haunted him, in particular the bombing of Royan in Southern France which claimed the lives of near on 3000 innocent civilians. His lifelong regret was not so much his active duty but his blind participation in the belief that by doing so fascism and tyranny would be defeated, his acceptance of lies and his unquestioning obedience. Zinn dedicated his life to researching ethical issues including race, class, war and history and is perhaps best known for his work A People's History of the United States upon which this piece is based.

Presenting songs and stories, using Zinn's own words and recollections, Bagatourian's The Time of Our Lies is a platform for the accounts of individual soldiers and civilians, reminders of the horrors of war, civil rights protests and dissent and the plight of all those innocent victims of political deceit and injustice. Although Zinn's work is more widely studied in the United States, the message is universal. Globally are the effects of the manipulation by those in power who seek their own ideals and exert their influence on a willing and accepting populace who are keen to allow the narrative of political figures to fit their own agenda and give it meaning. Decisions made by those who are uninformed and follow blindly will rebound strongly on future generations. There is no defence in ignorance; dissent is the strongest form of patriotism.

Directed by Che Walker the minimalist set avoids distraction and ensures focus on the harrowing war sounds of Sheila Atim's sound track, the flashing blood scarlet lighting of Arnim Friess and the agony in the performance. The focus is intentionally on the narrative, which is directed at the audience. At times the raw honesty is suffocating and I could not draw my eyes away from the tears of Trang Le as she recounted the horrors of Vietnam. Each account is only a few moments but its effect is intense.

The message is clear. What we believed to be democracy has turned tables. In reality it is exploitative and uses to advantage the reluctance of those who do not challenge.

In total the running time of just over one hour is sufficient to present this scandal. The seven actors in this ensemble piece convincingly present their range of characters. There is no romanticism, no high tech,simply the purity and honesty of the narrative taken first hand by Zinn in his writing. This is realism and it is highly effective. To vote for a government, one must first understand the history and then question.

Daniel Benzali was to have played the role of Howard Zinn but due to his indisposition this is now played by Martina Laird at all evening performances. Despite the very short notice, and perhaps more reliant on the script before her, she was nevertheless convincing in her presentation as lecturer/teacher and her guidance was clear and delivered.The ensemble includes Alvaro Flores, Lanna Joffrey, Trang Le, Claire Lebowitz King and Jessye Romeo. Under the guidance of Maureen Flemming their physical depictions and movement confirm the poignancy which renders you in deep thought as an observer. 

Perhaps not the most comfortable of evenings and knowing very little about Zinn before I arrived, I am now resolute in finding out more about this radical historian who gave selflessly of himself. The Time Of Our Lies is a battle cry for democracy, transparency and inclusion and reaffirms Zinn as a moral compass for the United States. In his own words: 'We don't have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an endless succession of presents and to live now as we think humans should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory'.

(At matinees the role of Howard Zinn will be taken by Che Walker and Ann Mitchell.)

Listings: The Time Of Our Lies

Venue: Park 200 Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 30 July - 10 August 2019
Age Guidance: 12+ (but I might suggest older)
Access performances: Audio Described: Friday 9August 19.30; TouchTour 18.00
Performances: Mon-Sat evenings 19.30, Thurs & Sat Matinees 15.00
Prices: Standard £18.50 - £32.50, concessions £16.50-£23.50
Under 16s £15 - £20 or 020 7870 6876 - 10% telephone booking fee capped at £2.50 per ticket