Interview: Anoushka Chadha, ‘I’m excited for young south Asian actors to see someone on stage that looks like them’

Photo: Anoushka Chadha. Credit: MUG Photography

As Sonali Bhattacharyya’s Two Billion Beats entered rehearsals at the Orange Tree Theatre, we caught up with lead Anoushka Chadha who plays Bettina and co-stars alongside Safiyya Ingar in the two-hander. The play, which opened for previews on 5 February, details the experiences of schoolgirls Asha and Bettina.

We spoke with Chadha, whose previous theatre credits include the recent NW Trilogy at Kiln Theatre, about the play, how it reflects her own experiences, and diversity in theatre.

Q&A with Anoushka Chadha

Thanks for taking time out from rehearsing Two Billion Beats to speak with us, Anoushka. How have rehearsals been so far?

Hello! Thank you so much for having me! Rehearsals have been going amazing! This process is one of those where it doesn’t feel like you are going to work! It’s such a lively atmosphere in the rehearsal room with constant laughs and enthusiasm. Don’t get me wrong we work hard, but it’s always nice working with such lovely people. It’s empowering working alongside such powerful and diverse humans.

What can you tell us about Two Billion Beats and your role as Bettina?

Two Billion Beats is a new play that has been developed to explore two South Asian sisters growing up in Leicester and them discovering themselves and their voices and all the hurdles they face along the way. It focuses on two storylines with two separate narratives, one for each sister, but really hones in on the sibling relationship between the two sisters, Asha and Bettina. Bettina is a very wide-eyed, innocent, and naive character and is often caught in a daydream but loves her sister dearly and idolises her as she goes to her for help for when she’s being bullied and wishes she had some of Asha’s tough attributes sometimes.

Anoushka Chadha in Two Billion Beats. Photo: Alex Brenner

How has it been working with writer Sonali Bhattacharyya and director Nimmo Ismail?

When I tell you the rehearsal room is full of love and encouragement, I mean it. Sonali and Nimmo are seriously such a dynamic duo and such a treat to have on the creative team, they listen and adapt and ensure everyone is comfortable at all times. Working with a Muslim hijabi woman and a south Asian woman on a story that explores them both is super super important to me, and I am thrilled to be working alongside them.

The play speaks about growing up in Britain as a South Asian woman of colour – do you find the play reflecting your own experiences?

This play having two south Asian leads is honestly the most incredible experience ever. Like ever. How often do you see this? Growing up I never saw this. There would usually be one person that looked like me or none at all but the fact this play only features two south Asians is so amazing to me. Diversity in theatre clearly still needs work but we are slowly getting better, and I’m excited for young south Asian actors coming and watching this play to see someone on stage that looks like them.

Anoushka Chadha (right) in Two Billion Beats with Safiyya Ingar. Photo: Alex Brenner

What does the play tell us about how British history is taught in schools?

I think the play explores how curriculum in schools is always taught in a one-sided and through the western lens and history is usually taught in a way it’s usually fact and can’t be challenged. It’s very interesting to see who is seen as hero’s, who gets villainised and who is not even spoken about.

Is there more that UK and London theatres should be doing to improve diversity, inclusion and representation in theatre, and to tell stories like Asha and Bettina’s?

Bring people in the room who reflect the stories that you’re telling. It really is that simple.

Finally, how would you describe Two Billion Beats to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?

It’s a fun show that will keep you laughing but also with a deeper message, that will make you think about your own political views and how you can challenge your own thoughts. Also, we dance to Cardi B so there’s that too!