Guards at the Taj

This play by Rajiv Joseph was a thought- provoking exploration of the themes of beauty, power and class.  Two guards take the dawn shift at the site where the Taj Mahal is being built.  They cannot look at the building as it is not their place to do so and neither can they turn their backs to take a look.  The building is beautiful, some say the most beautiful building in the world.  It was built with the hands of 20,000 men.  These hands become important as the play moves towards its end.  We do not see these other men, or indeed any other characters other than Babur, played by Darren Kuppan , and Humayun, played by Danny Ashok.  Babur is the curious one, ready to dream of a different life, while Hamayun is the guard who knows his place and who follows orders… any order that is given to him.  This too becomes important as the play moves on.

The play uses a legend that the workers who built the Taj Mahal had their hands cut off so that they could not build anything as beautiful again.  The two characters carry out this gruesome task but struggle with the idea that beauty can be protected in this way or that anyone could want the quest for beauty to end.

There is one flashback, included to throw the ending into sharper relief. Otherwise the play progresses from an ordinary dawn on one day to a tragic ending.  Both actors were terrific with their own British accents used in part to remind us that the themes and circumstances are with us still.  The poorest of the world are still used as labour in big building projects around the world and rulers still wield power in unexpected ways.

 

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