sun 21/07/2024

Two Billion Beats, Orange Tree Theatre review - bursting with heart | reviews, news & interviews

Two Billion Beats, Orange Tree Theatre review - bursting with heart

Two Billion Beats, Orange Tree Theatre review - bursting with heart

Sonali Bhattacharyya's new play explores sisterly love and Islamophobia with warmth and wit

Snappy lines and raucous energy: Anoushka Chadha (L) and Safiyya Ingar in 'Two Billion Beats'Alex Brenner

“You could read at home,” says Bettina (Anoushka Chadha), Year 10, her school uniform perfectly pressed, hair neatly styled. “You could be an annoying little shit at home,” retorts her sister Asha (Safiyya Ingar), Year 13, all fire and fury in Doc Martens and rainbow headphones.

Two Billion Beats, Sonali Bhattacharyya’s new play for the Orange Tree, draws us in with snappy lines and raucous energy before delivering an emotional wallop.

Asha is waiting to go home until their mum has left for work so she doesn’t have to talk about her history essay. She got 85%, but her mum only cares about the fact that she criticised Gandhi’s views on the Dalit, the lowest Indian caste of "untouchables". Asha admires B R Ambedkar, the lawyer (and Dalit himself) who played a key role in drafting the Indian constitution. Her mum thinks her teacher won’t be so complimentary when Asha goes for her heroes, the Pankhursts. Bettina just wants her sister to help her deal with Adil and the other bullies on the bus. And also a hamster, whom she plans on naming after Cardi B.Safiyya Ingar (L) and Anoushka Chadha in Two Billion Beats at the Orange Tree TheatreAsha is full of righteous indignation at the way that the Dalit were (and are) treated, at the slander Sylvia Pankhurst’s pacifism provoked from her mother and sister. She’s compassionate but proud too, flush with teenage conviction that she is right. There’s a palpable change in Ingar when it becomes clear that a throwaway comment from Bettina could have a lasting impact on Muslim Adil’s life, as if we’re watching Asha grow up in front of our eyes.

Two Billion Beats is many things: coming-of-age drama, wickedly funny comedy, story about two sisters. It’s a study, too, of the nature of history, what it means to be a victim, and where who we want to be intersects with who we are. Most importantly, though, it’s a two-hander balanced on the bond between Ingar and Chadha, which director Nimmo Ismail has brought out beautifully. The sisters mock and needle each other – Bettina points out that Asha wants to make speeches like Sylvia, but doesn’t want to do the hard work of being an activist. Their mid-play dance sequence (to a Cardi B track, naturally) bursts with joy. They’re the most believable fictional siblings I’ve seen onstage.

Safiyya Ingar in Two Billion Beats at the Orange Tree TheatreThe movement directors Chi-San Howard and Tian Brown-Sampson have excelled themselves. In the opening scene, Asha describes her essay with an extended boxing metaphor, Ingar leaping and throwing haymakers across Debbie Duru’s set of concrete blocks. Unlike Bettina, Asha chats to the audience, Alex Fernandes’ lighting bathing her in blue during these asides. Amber flashes pass across her face like a train trundling through the night. Both actors are clearly rising stars, but Ingar especially is one to watch.

Strictly speaking, Two Billion Beats is not a two-hander. The hamster appears in the fur towards the end of the play, but is sadly uncredited. Whoever you are, you did a bang-up job.

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