The Taj Mahal stands at dawn as the most beautiful monument in the world. Humayun (Idam Sondhi) and Babur (Akkshey Caplash) are tasked to guard it without turning around to sneak a look. They pass the hours rooted in the same spot, swords poised – bickering, gossiping and dreaming amongst bird calls.
Babur is bursting with restless idealism – a keen inventor who imagines flying machines in a distant future, hurtling towards the burning fires in the sky. Humayun is his antithesis, austere and steadfast but the perfect foil to his wide-eyed dreamer of a friend.
The National Theatre of Parramatta’s production of Rajiv Joseph’s Guards At The Tajis touching, funny and potent. Directed by Bali Padda, the play is a captivating exploration of how far friendship can be pushed and the tension between duty and humanity.
As the legend goes, emperor Shah Jahan orders for the hands to be lopped off from the 20,000 workers who built the Taj (dedicated to his favourite late wife) so that its beauty may remain unparalleled, never to be attained again.
Left to perform the gruesome act, the guards grapple in the aftermath with questions of morality and survival. Babur fears that he has killed beauty and struggles to reconcile the horrific nature of what they have done while rule-bound Humayun acknowledges the necessity of retaining the status quo to live a comfortable life.
Sondhi and Caplash are an excellent tag team. Sondhi centresthe exuberant expressiveness of his counterpart whilst Caplash teases out the lighter sides of his. The pair pinpoint moments of tenderness and humour against visceral atrocitythat is shocking and unexpected.
The visual spectacle of this production is rounded out by Me-Lee Hay’s soundscape weaving multilayered dimensions into the space and deepened by Kate Baldwin’s lighting which casts cool blues against stains of red.
Whilst there may be blood left on Humayun and Babur’shands, the haunting presence of beauty lingers long after.