One of the most interesting things about Theatre by the Lake’s relentless producing schedule is the way it pushes plays conceived for main house spaces into intimate studio settings.
Guards at the Taj is not an obvious pick for a studio production. As the title suggests, the play is big, matching the monumental scale of its subject with equally monumental horror. But it is also a two-hander, and Kash Arshad’s production succeeds by digging into the relationship between the two guards outside the newly completed Taj Mahal.
Luke Murphy’s Babur instantly gets the audience onside with some fine comic notes. Hs relationship with Devesh Kishore’s Humayun is smartly calibrated to enable the play’s tragicomic odd couple dynamic. Both actors take advantage of the relatively confined space to suggest subtleties in their responses to each other and their extraordinary experiences, which would be less visible in a more expansive setting.
The play’s atmospherics mean the design team has a lot of heavy lifting to do. Elizabeth Wright’s design ingeniously conjures a bloodbath from nowhere. Robbie Butler’s lighting makes the most of the radically different emotional and physical spaces the characters inhabit. Mark Melville’s composition and sound give a strong sense of the immense stakes being played for, and drives the play’s sudden shifts of tone.
There is certainly some strong work on display. Nonetheless, the play’s exploration of horror, beauty and dreams, and the intensity of its tonal demands, don’t scale down entirely comfortably in the intimate traverse staging.