When I visited the newly-reopened Bush Theatre for a tour recently, I made a note of the first full-run play that would be on there, as I thought it sounded interesting. That play was Guards at the Taj, written by Rajiv Joseph and directed here by Jamie Lloyd. It’s about the construction of the Taj Mahal, but it’s also about friendship and moral responsibility.
Set in Agra, India, in 1648, the play starts off as something of a comedy, with two very different guards, Humayun (Danny Ashok) and Babur (Darren Kuppan) passing the time in (forbidden) conversation. Humayun is responsible and follows the rules, Babur is more carefree. Both know one thing – they mustn’t turn and look at the beautiful building being raised up behind them. They also repeat the legend that the emperor has ordered that the 20,000 men who built the Taj should have their hands cut off lest they ever create something as beautiful again. In this play, the myth becomes reality.
The pair’s conscientiousness backfires when their good behaviour earns them the ‘privilege’ of carrying out a particularly brutal deed. This proves to be too much for one of the men in particular, and sets forth a train of events that test loyalty and friendship and commitment to the prevailing orthodoxy. It’s a violent, bloody play, short but heartbreakingly sad. Definitely worth seeing.