Best known for his 1980 book A People’s History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn was a lifelong civil rights activist. Drawing on his writings, Bianca Bagatourian’s The Time of Our Lies is part-biography, part-manifesto – a clarion call to the oppressed to rise up against global injustice.
Zinn took part in Allied bombing raids on Pilsen and Royan during the Second World War, but was later aghast to discover their dreadful civilian toll. As the US pursued military action in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, he came to believe that servicemen were dying not for their country but for the vested interests of political elites and corporations.
With the originally billed Daniel Benzali indisposed, Martina Laird plays the role of Zinn. On-book but fully in command of the material, she inhabits Zinn’s wry language with wit and gravitas – if anything, hearing the words of an older New York Jewish man spoken by a woman of colour highlights their universality.
Interspersed between Zinn’s monologues, camo-clad ensemble members writhe in stylised anguish under Arnim Friess’ stark, flashing red lights and Sheila Atim’s soundtrack of high-pitched shrieks and low rumbles. They sing out African-American spirituals alongside songs of protest and solidarity in many languages. Among a strong international ensemble, Trang Le’s evocation of a Vietnamese mother who witnessed the shooting of 11 members of her family is particularly harrowing, while Alvaro Flores’ uncanny Trump impression is a reminder that none of Zinn’s concerns have subsided.
While the form of The Time of Our Lies is non-linear, the mosaic-like pieces of Ché Walker’s production come together to form a potent message: that the world’s oppressed are suffering through the cruelty and stupidity of their leaders.