Guards at the Taj

By Rajiv Joseph

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, until November

We’ve all heard tales about the Taj Mahal, the world’s most beautiful tomb, a gleaming white edifice built by the Indian emperor following the death of his adored wife.

We’ve all seen that photo of a forlorn Princess Diana out front.

But there is one myth surrounding the Taj which was new to me. And it doesn’t get much more bloody brutal (literally) – hence the warnings before the regional premiere of Guards at the Taj.

The one act, two actor play in the Studio opens in soft Indian light as dawn breaks on the final day of the construction of the Taj Mahal, which has taken 16 years and 20,000 people to build.

Two Imperial Guards have been ordered – like everyone else - to resist the urge to have a sneak peek at what’s said to be the world’s most beautiful monument.

The brotherly banter between playful Babur (Luke Murphy) and the more sensible Humayun (Devesh Kishore) focuses on their hopes and dreams.

There’s lots of humour and a lovely connection between them although it soon becomes clear that those hopes and dreams will never be more than that as they are powerless in their society.

Babur is intrigued by tales of the Taj and can’t resist a quick look. In a magical scene, he tentatively turns round, his face lighting up as he is captivated by the pure white domes. Humayun, originally horrified at the thought of disobeying orders, crumbles and succumbs too.

But it turns out that beauty comes at a terrible price. The emperor is desperate to ensure nothing more lovely would ever be created and consequently calls for the thousands of craftsmen involved to be dealt with in such a way that they will never work again.

The atmosphere changes dramatically as the two guards obey orders and their lives change forever.

There are some harrowing, shocking scenes. But the talented actors work so well together, creating an impressive dynamic and doing credit to the brilliant script.

Alongside them there are sensational sound effects, music and lighting which all heighten the drama and work perfectly in the Studio. The set is equally clever and impressive.

All of these components and great direction by Kash Arshad deliver a stunning, ambitious production.

This thought-provoking play, about beauty and power, has everything – incredible drama, intriguing tales and much humour. It’s fabulously acted, produced and directed.