Vancouver Fringe 2019: Guards at the Taj

Bet you haven’t see a show quite like this before. (Photo of Adele Noronha and Andy Kalirai)

Babur and Humayan are guards at the site where the Taj Mahal is being built. On the day it’s finished, they are charged with cutting off the hands of the 20,000 artists and artisans who have made it beautiful; the emperor doesn’t want them to contribute their skills to competing buildings.

Guards at the Taj is a comedy. You heard me. And it works. It’s poetic. That works too. And it’s thematically substantial.

A whole lot of the humour in Guards at the Taj arises from juxtaposition. Although the action’s set in 1648 in Mughal India, Babur and Humayan’s speech is contemporary. And the goofiness of their exchanges spins off the horror of their actions. When Babur complains that he’s the one who had to do the cutting, Humayan, who cauterized the wounds, counters that they could have switched. “But we couldn’t!” Babur insists. “We fell into a rhythm.”

Babur is an artist in his own right: gazing at the stars, he imagines space travel on a palanquin. Addressing the potential problem of falling off, he imagines seatbelts. Actor Andy Kalirai captures Babur’s sweet dreaminess as well as some very recognizable laddiness — when Babur imagines laying his eyes on the emperor’s harem, for instance.

Adele Noronha also shines as the more uptight Humayan. (“The happiest man is also the craziest man.”) Noronha is wearing a moustache for the role and her casting by director Paneet Singh emphasizes the performance of masculinity, which is already one of the playwright Rajiv Joseph’s concerns.

Guards at the Taj also opens up deeper conversations about the nature of beauty, about art and class, and — most potently — about complicity in and resistance to brutal regimes. Are there limits to our collusion when we are defending our privilege?

At the Vancity Culture Lab. Remaining performances on September 7 (1:00 p.m.), 8 (4:35 p.m.), 10 (7:00 p.m.), 13 (7:30 p.m.), and 15 (5:45 p.m.)


About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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