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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond


New Greenham Arts, 14th November 2002 and at other locations.

This is the review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Emotions were drained

TAJ, at New Greenham Arts, on Thursday, November 14

This was a challenging and compelling drama that explored the last journey of a young Asian woman, inextricably caught between life and death, and the love story of Shahjahan, played powerfully by Benjamin Jones, and his enigmatic queen Mumtaz, Natalia Campbell, for whom he built the fabulous Taj Mahal.

In the intimate confines of New Greenham Arts, this team of four performers explored the full range of drama, dance and visual techniques interwoven with a kaleidoscope of video projection and technical wizardry to create a complex and touching scenario, with occasional but very real humour.

Maryam, touchingly portrayed by Laila Vakil, is on the journey of a lifetime, marred only by her terminal cancer, and yet it is her condition itself which allows her to understand and make contact with the spirit of the dead empress Taj.

The combination of fact and fantasy, past and present, provides wonderful material for this production as it moves effortlessly from now to then and back, combining the sound and movement of classical Asian dance and music with the clinical reality of modern medicine and the harsh reality of life, and death. I particularly liked the blend of rhythmic chants, stamps and poses so reminiscent of Kathak dance and the way in which they were used to move the story on.

This combination of fact and fiction is a powerful stage device, handled in an extremely clever fashion, although the subject matter is all too close to home for many of us. There cannot be many people these days who are not touched by the ever present horrors of cancer, and yet the story unfolded with unexpected twists and turns, moving to its, not altogether expected, conclusion.

The set was intricate and skilfully manipulated by the performers, and the lighting used to good effect as they appeared and disappeared, changed levels and directions, until you almost lost touch with reality. However, for me it was just a little too long, the climax coming possibly 15 to 20 minutes before the end and leaving me feeling rather more drained than perhaps was necessary. Nevertheless it was powerful and thought-provoking theatre and all those concerned should be complimented.