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Thursday, 10 February 2022

REVIEW: Two Billion Beats at the Orange Tree Theatre

This was my first visit to the intimate Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond for a production in the round of the world premiere of Two Billion Beats by Sonali Bhattacharyya, an ambitious short play that attempts to reflect on female emancipation, racial and social discrimination, bullying and ambition at school, conflict with parents and sisterly tensions. The burden for explaining these ideas and the way they interlink falls on Safiyya Ingar as the older sister Asha. Though it is her sister Bettina, played by Anoushka Chadha, that gives us the title meaning when she explains that each being’s heartbeats two billion beats in a lifetime and so if it beats quicker, the shorter the life.  

Ingar rises to the challenge magnificently holding court with long monologues and engaging the audience constantly as she prowls around the space gazing out at the audience. Simple light changes take us from her reality at school and at the bus stop to her inner thoughts and her phone is cleverly used to provide the voices of historical and other characters. She tells us of the alternative views of Gandhi, the civil rights campaigner, and B R Ambedkar, a significant figure in the establishment of India’s Independence through an imagined boxing match that becomes the subject of her school essay.
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