Beauty and blood at the Bush
It's a brilliant idea: two men are on guard as the finishing touches are made to the Taj Mahal, but are not allowed to turn and look.
"They say it will be the most beautiful thing in the world."
The dreamer, Babur, wants to give in to temptation. The more authoritarian Humayun wants to stick to the rules and do his duty. Their banter about the Taj's architect, the Emperor Sgah Jehan's harem and Babur's anachronistic fantasies, entertains us through the first short scene of this clever two hander. Finally, Babur's weakness and life's temptations prove overwhelming.
Then beauty gives way to blood. A terrible punishment is wrought on the army of men who built the most beautiful object in the world, and Babur and Humayun are the chosen perpetrators. The brutality of the Emperor's (mythical) command is conjured up as intensely as the astonishing brilliance of the Taj.
Babur and Humayun react differently to the price exacted for beauty, with Babur taking it to heart and Humayun suppressing and rationalising his feelings into a sense of dubious rectitude and duty to state and, more significantly, to father, a former head of the Imperial Guard.
Writer Rajiv Joseph enjoys playing with wth the sublime and the ridiculous, and manages to entertainingly raise questions about privilege, beauty and duty, even if in this case the extremes to which duty leads destroys its case except for its most fanatical adherents - or those with the sternest fathers. There's an uneasy resonance with today's fanatics.
* Guards At The Taj is at the Bush Theatre, 7 Uxbridge Road, W12, until 20 May. Info: 8743 5050/ bushtheatre.co.uk
+ The Bush reoped on 18 March after a £4.3 million facelift, with a new entrance and garden terrace as well as more studio and rehearsal space. The theatre promises to "nurture, develop and showcase the best new arrists and their work; reflecting local, nation and international communities and encouraging the diversification of artists and artistic leadership in the UK. It will workalongside a programme thaT will offer a black, Asian, minority ethnic or refugee playwright a £10,000 bursary every year.
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