Playwright Sonali Bhattacharyya was in residence at the Orange Tree in 2018 where she wrote Chasing Hares, winning the Sonia Friedman Production Award and Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Award. She returned with a new play which was first shown over lockdown as part of the Orange Tree’s Inside/Outside livestream. This time, the complexity of sister relationships is at the heart of her creation of Two Billion Beats. Facing the world and its inequalities together, we watched Asha and Bettina grow up while trying to create a better world.
Asha is sitting in a square, her rainbow headphones playing music while she is reading an essay about BR Ambedkar, an Indian politician advocating political rights and social freedom. His words resound in her, questioning Gandhi as an untouchable political figure. The play continues with Asha’s sister Bettina asking for her help as she is bullied on the bus to school. The question presented to the audience is will Asha be able to put into practice her ideas to fight injustice and help her sister?
In this two-hander (performance with two actors), playwright Sonali Bhattacharyya finds a perfect balance between Asha’s intense thoughts and her sweet and less confident sister Bettina. The lighting design created by Alex Fernandes shifts from warm daylight tones to lights flashing. Asha’s different experiences are conveyed through different types of lighting techniques, ranging from scenes at the bus stop where she meets her sister after school to those where we see her reflecting on her personal thoughts on injustice and racism. At the bus stop, for instance, the light was bright like the natural sun yet when Asha was deep in thought the entire space was black and she was the only one under the light. Between laughter and tears, this coming-of-age drama takes us back to high school while reflecting on burning societal issues.
Two Billion Beats is a compelling coming-of-age drama immersing us in the struggle between political ideals and social reality. You can learn more about Orange Tree Theatre and get your tickets at: https://orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/two-billion-beats/about
Safiyya Ingar and Anoushka Chadha in TWO BILLION BEATS, photo Alex Brenner.
Reviewed by Alix Berthelot–Moritz- Alix is a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Originally from Normandy, France, she follows her passion for journalism and art by studying at the European Political and Social Sciences of UCL, London. As an international student living in London, she is determined to fully experience and discover the entirety of the city’s vibrant arts scene and share the beauty of it through her writing.