Review of ‘Two Billion Beats’: “It’s finding its pulse”

The Orange Tree Theatre opens its stage to the fight of bullying and the questioning of moral ideals in this new play penned by award-winning writer Sonali Bhattacharyya. Guillermo Nazara reviews this production directed by Nimmo Ismail, to share his thoughts on a work where sisterly love is the answer to every woe.

We all dream of things that we’ll never do. Wishes that drive our lives but never materialize. Sometimes it’s fate. Some others, it’s just us. London’s Orange Tree Theatre is presenting this week an interesting observation on the double-standards of morality, and the lack of action we (way too often) see on those who advocate for it. Christened as Two Billion Beats, a metaphor for life’s own time limitations, this new play comments, with audacity on the idealistic attitude of those who talk loud but do little – yearning for the big but avoiding contributing when the small chances arise. In order words, those speaking about fixing the world without cleaning up their own room.

Written by twice award winning dramaturg Sonali Bhattacharyya (previous credit includes Chasing Hares at the Old Vic, 2022), the piece focuses on the story of two teenage sisters Asha -the preachy one- (play by Shala Nyx) and Bettina -the cynical- (brought to the stage by Tanvi Virmani). An enjoyable duo onstage, their chemistry is most likely one of the strongest additions to the entire montage – both giving compelling performances, of which Virmani excels through a more subtle interpretation that exudes the confronting temper of her role (passionate and opinionated yet simultaneously shy and repressed).

Directed by Nimmo Ismail (earlier highlights feature SNAP at the Old Vic and Lost Laowais at the VAULT Festival), the script succeeds at creating a relatable story put together but believable and approachable characters. Either closer to one or the other, we’ve all been in their situation – sadly: we’ve all either been bullied or experienced the frustration of seeing a loved one being bullied (on many occasions, feeling powerless to do anything), we’ve all had encounters with teachers whose bias understanding of our work has unfairly made us self-conscious about our value, we’ve all felt hopeless about what we wanted to achieve and thought we could, but all of a sudden couldn’t know how… We’ve all been there: paralyzed.

The several well-correlated themes the piece brings out grants it a more profound quality, which is appreciated in different excerpts of the dialogue. However, the pacing does not match up with the depth of the material, as the over-recurring used of asides, some of which feel a bit too wordy, slow the rhythm down a bit too much (especially during the show’s opening), serving as an obstacle for the storyline’s natural flow. Though necessary to some level, the whole montage would surely work better if those parts were polished into shorter fragments, while the rest of its contents were moved to conversation extracts. A similar problem happens also with the ending, this time being a lack of necessary intensity to set up the conclusion,.

With an interesting plot and an acute view on human motivations, Two Billion Beats is a nice start for a work with enough potential to be memorable (some of its moments already are to some extent). Throbbing at unconnected speeds to tell one single tale, it just requires a more stable pattern to keep their tempo on track.

All pictures credit to The Other Richard.

Two Billion Beats plays at London’s Orange Tree Theatre until 4 February. Tickets are available on the following link.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

By Guillermo Nazara

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