Photo by Philip Vile
Last week, my sister and I both got invited to Bush Theatre’s blogger event for their productions of Guards at the Taj by Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rajiv Joseph. Official blogger siblings now!
Guards at the Taj opens the 2017 season at the Bush Theatre, following its major £4.3m renovation creating a more open, pretty space including a beautiful outdoor area. Guards at the Taj was recipient of both the Obie Award for Best New American Play and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play when it premiered at the Atlantic Theater in New York in 2015. The play makes its European Premiere in this brand new production by Jamie Lloyd, designed by Soutra Gilmour.
Humayan (Danny Ashok) and Babur (Darren Kuppan) are imperial guards, keeping watch as the final touches are put to the mighty Taj Mahal, built by 20,000 men over 20 years in honour of the emperor Shah Jahan’s late wife. Legends has it that once the Taj Mahal was completed, Shah Jahan ordered that the architect and the 20,000 slaves who built it, had their hands cut off in order to prevent anything as beautiful ever being built again. Guards at the Taj tells the story of two childhood friends and shows the true test of friendship as one night changes their lives forever.
“If we hadn’t done our jobs tonight, we’d be hanging by our necks in the royal courtyard getting our eyes pecked out by the royal crows. So excuse me if I don’t wallow in some misbegotten guilt all night. Was it fucked up? Yes, it was. But I don’t have to feel terrible about it.”
The Bloggers’ Event began with drinks and chats in the Bush Theatre’s reading room. Everyone then got a talk by the Bush Theatre’s associate dramaturg, theatre critic and former artistic director of Old Red Lion, Stewart Pringle. He spoke to us about the redevelopment of the Bush Theatre and the relevance and importance of bloggers to theatre criticism which was really inspiring as his career has essentially launched from his theatre blog.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Guards at the Taj. It seemed very historical at first glance and not the usual all singing all dancing big musicals I am used to seeing. I was really pleasantly surprised.
Danny Ashok and Darren Kuppan as the obedient Humayan and the goofy Babur play really nicely off each other. Their friendship is convincing, with constant banter and dark humour in their conversations. As actors, they flitted between their jokey moments and their tragic, hard hitting moments with ease.
The final scene splits between dreams and reality and is easily the most heartwrenching moment of the play with Richard Howell‘s lighting design at its most effective at this point in the play with the warm orangey dreamy hues contrasting with the stark white of reality.
Soutra Gilmour‘s design was simple and stripped back but really effective. The set was essentially made up of two trenches on the ground in front of a raised platform almost presenting a heaven/hell dynamic with all of the dream like scenes taking place on the platform and all of the heartbreaking and gruesome moments, taking place on the ground.
I would throughly recommend going to see Guards at the Taj. It is funny, thought provoking and is guaranteed to tear at your heart strings.
Production images by Marc Brenner
Buy tickets to Guards at the Taj
Guards at the Taj is on at Bush Theatre until 20th May
Running time: 80 mins (no interval)
You can buy tickets by clicking here.
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