Two Billion Beats
- Orange Tree Theatre
- Until 5th March 2022
- From £15
Political entities are deeply connected with the personal experience of individuals, this is a crucial point of Hanisch’s 1970 essay The Personal is Political. We are not necessarily responsible for problems and dilemmas in our everyday life, and neither can we always be capable of solving these on our own – rather they must be seen an issue of the society as a whole and be approached as such. That is the premise of Sonali Bhattacharyya’s Two Billion Beats, where we follow the ups and downs of Asha (Safiyya Ingar), who embodies the cliché of the almost edgy, witty, rebellious teenager. Confronted with all the trouble that entails the life of a poor young woman of colour, she clings onto her idealism and attempts to fight back… whatever that is supposed to mean exactly. In contrast, her younger sister Bettina (Anoushka Chadha) would much rather naively stroll through life–her biggest desire is ostensibly to get a hamster–but she must also realise that this is a privilege that her role does not allow her to attain. That is the dynamic that evolves throughout the play.
What immediately struck me, were the soliloquies of Asha. We, the audience, were part of a history lesson — spread over the whole play. Every now and then we would learn about the conflict between Ghandi and Ambedkar or about the troublesome history of suffragettes in England. We learn that popular figures held controversial positions and that the truly repressed ones tend to be forgotten or actively ignored. I was reliving this internal turbulence within Asha, because it caused discomfort inside me as well.
At times these moments of soliloquy did feel a bit superficial, at other times a bit overwhelming. Sometimes it felt raw, but overall, I think Bhattacharyya managed to keep a healthy balance and maintain smooth transitions.
At some points it felt as though the play was getting too one-sided, that this is just one huge rambling rant of Asha on the obstacles she is facing, then her sister comes in and pushes back, provokes, and gives the play its zest and its conflict. And this made Asha’s struggle even more relatable and the play as a whole even more intimate.
This was amplified by the comfy atmosphere of the theatre, where the boundary between stage and audience is essentially non-existent. It felt like I was overhearing a conversation at a bus stop: this level of authenticity is proof of a thought-out play and a well-executed direction (Nimmo Ismail). And with all kinds of intermezzos it certainly doesn’t get boring. Go into Two Billion Beats and find yourself in the epicentre of a social hotspot.