Two Billion Beats ★★★★ Orange Tree Theatre | Jan 20 - Feb 4, 2023

Two billion beats refers to the number of times a heart beats over a lifetime, and this story deals with two sisters who learn life lessons both in school and in the schoolyard. Asha is determined to succeed, but even as she strives to be the top of her class her definition of success is changing. It turns out that her role models from teacher, Mrs L and her mother to Gandhi and Emmeline Pankhurst may all prove to have clay feet. On the other hand, the aspirations of her younger sister, Bettina, are somewhat more mundane. The latter simply wants to buy a hamster and to end the bullying she suffers from classmates on the bus. At first, Asha ignores her sibling's plight, but when she becomes involved her view of the problem and her stratagem for dealing with it prove equally problematic. Like Emmeline Pankhurst's response to her pacifist daughter, Sylvia, or Gandhi's behaviour when dealing with B. R. Ambedkar and the Dalits, Asha fails to see the real scope of the issue. And in her case, the proposed intervention to address Bettina's being bullied proves to have serious, unintended consequences. Shala Nyx is excellent as the older, serious sister, Asha, and Tanvi Virmani recalls every younger sibling who has ever been endured. The chemistry between the two actors is spot on and their interactions ring completely true. If there is any weakness here, it is Sonali Bhattacharyya's script which doesn't sufficiently trust the audience to learn the same lesson as Asha. The stressing of the historical parallels and repetition of the points being hammered home seem rather heavy handed. Despite this slightly preachy tendency however, Two Billion Beats is a clever and thoughtful work that should capture any audience's heart.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by The Other Richard.

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