The newly re-developed Bush Theatre building boasts a more sustainable and a completely accessible space. The revamped theatre now has an additional studio space and an attic rehearsal room, allowing for more work to be produced. Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the Taj is the new building’s first show, and a great choice to open the renovated space. With brilliant humour, dark themes and two strong performers, the play is a superb imagining of the myths surrounding Shah Jahan and the Taj Mahal, and a wonderful performance.
Best friends Humayun (Danny Ashok) and Babur (Darren Kuppan) are guarding the Taj Mahal. It’s been 16 years in the making, and finally, it’s almost complete. But the emperor has declared that no one, apart from those in charge of building it, shall look at the Taj until it is finished. Babur desperately wants to sneak a glance of the most beautiful monument in the world, but Humayun is apprehensive. After all, going against the emperor has terrible consequences, which the guards soon find out.
Soutra Gilmour’s dark and ominous bare set serves as a perfect canvas to Ashok and Kuppan’s performances, who deliver the task of bringing to life Joseph’s India extremely well. Kuppan is loveable as Babur, constantly making fun of Humayun’s seriousness with admiration and love. He performs Babur’s humour with delight and equally presents the character’s guilty turmoil with great sympathy. Opposite him, Ashok’s caring and concerned Humayun is powerful, and the two have incredible chemistry. The friendship projected onto the stage is moving, and there is a particularly touching moment where Ashok meticulously washes blood off Kuppan’s body, taking care to remove every last bit. This gentle action beautifully captures the deep love the two characters have for each other, and a scene that has the potential to be funny or awkward becomes tender with Jamie Lloyd expert direction.
Joseph’s text is a striking exploration of duty and friendship that weaves folklore and fact into an energetic 80 minutes. The characters are empathetic and complex, so there is never a dull moment, especially as both actors do well in engaging the audience and animating the minimal stage. Guards at the Taj is a great piece of work, and an excellent way to open the new and improved Bush Theatre.
Guards at the Taj is at the Bush Theatre until 20th May.