Guards at the Taj: Theatre by the Lake
It’s always fascinating to ponder what inspires playwrights to create dramatic stories. Who would have thought an obscure American historical figure called Alexander Hamilton would be centre-stage for the most successful musical of modern times?
And so why was this story, perhaps part myth, about the building of the Taj Mahal, so captivating that writer Rajiv Joseph was able to turn it into a piece of compelling theatre?
Guards at the Taj, the final component of Theatre by the Lake’s summer season, takes a legend as its starting point and in a dark and very bloody comedy prompts audiences to consider art and privilege, beauty, power, and the powerless. Joseph won awards when this was premiered in New York; audiences here can now see why.
Joseph uses the two guards, Humayun (Devesh Kishore) and Babur (Luke Murphy) appointed to protect the Taj Mahal on the morning of its completion to view what happened…perhaps happened……through their eyes.
It’s 1648. Agra, India. Imperial guards and best mates Humayun and Babur are keeping watch as the final touches are put to the mighty Taj Mahal behind them.
The emperor has decreed that no one, except the masons, labourers and slaves who exist within those walls, shall turn to look at the building until it is complete. Now, as the building nears completion and the first light catches on the pure white domes behind them, the temptation to steal a glance at the most beautiful monument the world has ever seen grows stronger. But beauty has a price and Humayun and Babur are about to learn its true cost.
This production, directed by Kash Arshad, is a mini-masterpiece with more than just undertones of Beckett, unfolding the affectionate relationship of the two protagonists with warm and wicked humour as a prelude to brutal, disturbing developments.Their timing, and their genuine relationship, are both impeccable. It’s a performance of severe intensity.
Guards is both physically raw and existential at the same time. Be careful, if you are of a delicate disposition, not to sit on the front row. It’s a bold choice by the Keswick team, who have new artistic director Liz Stevenson at the helm now, and brought in Kash, the trainee artistic director at Freedom Studios, Bradford.
The night we were there, in the main house Sir Ian McKellen was raising the roof with his one man show, designed to draw attention to the brilliance of regional theatre. A perfect dramatic juxtaposition to highlight the standards here in the Lakes.
Guards at the Taj plays until November. Tickets and details: https://www.theatrebythelake.com/production/18431/Guards-at-the-Taj