Having just completed its 4.3 million re-development, the Bush Theatre is shining with ambition. Artistic director Madani Younis has set out to reflect the diversity of London today and ‘Guards at the Taj’ written by Pulitzer prize winner, Rajiv Joseph is a strong start to the new season. This very British production of the American play-write’s two hander is rooted in the legends of the Taj Mahal, yet has a distinctly contemporary bite.

Two young men and best mates Barbur and Hamayun stand guard outside the Taj Mahal in 1648. As dawn breaks on the white domed beauty, Barbur, the curious and rebellious one is desperate to look round despite the Emperor’s decree that no-one but the 20,000 workers who built it must lay eyes on it until it’s completion. Hamayun in contrast is accepting and obedient, terrified of what might happen if they disobey. They squabble (in a very 21st century way) and share gossip including the rumour that the Emperor is going to have the 40,000 hands of the workers chopped off so that nothing so beautiful could ever be built again. ‘That;s a terrible job, who’s gonna have to do that?’ says Babur… as it dawns on the duo that it could be them, we too realise that the early banter of the play is warming us up for something a lot darker.

The play shifts from light comedy to playful satire and gentle philosophising before plunging to depths of genuine horror. Jamie Lloyds production with fresh, naturalistic performances feels very British despite it’s American beginnings. And Soutra Gilmour’s stunning design is a major player in the drama, taking the guards from the raised look out-point into the underground chambers, soaked in blood.

Darren Kuppan as eager Babur who longs for freedom and Danny Ashok (Hamayun) who just wants approval from his father and the state remain likeable even as their actions become increasingly horrifying. It’s their likeability and curiosity that makes for a fascinating window into radicalisation in a broad sense – how far will young men go to obey orders from a despotic leader? And what will be the psychological impact on each individual? There’s a lot packed into this short play and the re-vamped Bush Theatre is well worth a visit.
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