Thursday 15 August 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Guards At The Taj - Theatre By The Lake, Keswick.

As last minute decisions go, my decision to head up to Keswick at the weekend to see their latest show in their summer rep season stands as one of my good ones. For me it’s a two hour drive up the M6 and most people go to the Lakes to climb up mountains or whatever but on this occasion for me it’s Theatre. Recently I’ve been going up there to experience their Theatre By The Lake and it’s just as fun as Helvelyn. I find it refreshing to visit a theatre firmly focussed on producing great theatre in-house without any political expectations thrust upon them unlike so many northern theatres right now. Artistic Director Liz Stevenson has put together an engaging and entertaining season of theatre and I desperately want to see the rest.

It’s opening night for Guards At The Taj, a dark comedy written by US-based playwright Rajiv Joseph and it was first produced in New York in 2015. Since then it’s been produced at the Bush Theatre in London. Now, the Theatre By The Lake have put it in their rep season directed by Kash Arshad.

Guards At The Taj centres around two pals who are junior members of the Imperial Guard to the Emperor of India. One of the pair, Babur, played by Luke Murphy, seems a bit of a liability so much so that despite Humayun’s attempts to cover for him and his family connections, they get given the worst jobs. It goes beyond this premise though, far beyond and far deeper, exploring the nature of beauty and questions whether beauty is a thing that can be killed. It’s a fine question and despite occasional mild verbosity is driven home by excellent writing in the dialogue and the philosophies expressed.

All of this is made complete by beautiful craftsmanship from the actors Murphy and Devesh Kishore and creative team headed by Arshad. There’s a touch of the “Pinteresque” to this play and although I say that about an awful lot of the plays I like, I think it’s right to say it, particularly in this case. There are some fabulous moments of stillness and silence in which you begin to form your own stories using your own imagination. When the silence is broken the play moves, beautifully paced and structured and intelligently nurtured by Arshad to bring out the best in Joseph's text.

This play isn’t for the faint hearted I should warn, there’s literally bucket-loads of blood and though most of the maiming happens before scenes open it’s still a visceral depiction of the lot of junior members of an Imperial Guard forced to do the dirty jobs.

At a rough estimate Guards At The Taj runs about an hour and a half in length with no interval. There are, unfortunately, a couple of lengthy scene changes which run on a little too long for comfort and a little too short to be classed as an interval. There seems to be nothing that can be done about this as the actors need that time to clean off the blood they’ve immersed themselves in. It’s the price we pay for gore!

This is a well crafted play. It is a great piece of writing superbly executed by a fine pair of actors and a great creative team. There’s passion there, which is infectious and worthy of high praise.

Reviewer - Karl Barnsley
on - 10/8/19

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