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‘Two Billion Beats’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Two Billion Beats, Orange Tree, 2022
Photo by Alex Brenner
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Messy but charming coming-of-age drama about two British Indian sisters negotiating their teenage years

This spirited coming-of-age drama from Sonali Bhattacharyya is by no means perfect, but it certainly has some neat ideas, and is given a likeable inaugural production by Nimmo Ismail.

Asha (Safiyya Ingar) and Bettina (Anoushka Chadha) are British Indian sisters, both at the same secondary school in Leicester. As ‘Two Billion Beats’ begins, Chadha’s endearingly puppyish Bettina is trying to get her non-communicative elder sister to stop inscrutably loitering outside the school gates and come home with her. Asha grunts away grumpily, but a series of glimpses into her zingy inner monologue reveals that she’s borderline high on the experience of having written a punchy essay in which she critiqued Mahatma Gandhi for his conflict with the less remembered Indian politician BR Ambedkar, who wanted to end India’s oppressive caste system.

Unfortunately this has massively pissed off her mum, which is why we find Asha killing time after school until her mum’s nightshift begins. Meanwhile, it becomes apparent Bettina has problems of her own: some kids have been bullying her on the bus home, and she’s clinging to Asha in the hope her big sister might lamp her oppressors.

The most interesting thing about Bhattacharyya’s play is the manner by which Asha takes on board the teachings of Ambedkar – and later Sylvia Pankhurst – and ends up applying them to her own life: her outlook on the world shifts, but quite subtly and interestingly, with meaningful consequences for how the story plays out.

The two actors have a nice, sparky chemistry together: Chadha is sweet and Ingar is sassy but there’s a real easy warmth between them and a sense of their care for each other.

Ultimately the play is rather let down by a degree of early-career shakiness. For starters, it’s weird to explicitly set it in Leicester and not bother with Leicester accents. A laboured attempt to indict Asha’s teacher of Karen-ist hypocrisy feels like it’s been approached completely wrongly (it hinges on the idea Emmeline Pankhurst is as big a sacred cow as Gandhi). And the bullying saga spirals out of control in a way that serves Asha‘s newfound philosophical beliefs well, but is, to be blunt, totally ridiculous.

But if it’s flawed, it’s got heart, spark and - later on - a live hamster. Messy, but enjoyable.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

Details

Address:
Price:
£15-£32. Runs 1hr 20min
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