Rebecca G. reviews Bound Theatre’s newest work, which explores the darker elements of our always-connected lives : cancel culture, fake news, and modified behaviours, in an interactive performance that involved the audience to varying degrees of success.
Our journey into the all-too-real world of Screen. Shot. starts before any audience member has even stepped foot into the theatre. This first introduction to the play was in the form of a Telegram group chat that was set up a couple of days before the actual production. Audience members were invited to the platform, and were able to converse with other users as ‘parents’ who have enrolled their children into the fictional Dragonfly Childcare Centre. Imagination and reality blurs as facilitators from the cast and creative team encouraged us to discuss our ‘families’, and the stresses of parenthood – amidst requests for contributions to a potluck event organised by the centre’s principal.
This element of heightened realism defines the experience of watching this original production by Bound Theatre. Directed by Juliana Kassim Chan, written by Dwayne Ng with Wee Jia Yi (Ping) as dramaturg, Screen. Shot. features a dynamic cast comprising of Yanshan Seet, Patrick Alvarez, and Zulfiqar Izzudin. It sets its premise in the digital realm, where speculation runs rife; the play explores how wildfires could ignite. It aims to be a discussion of modern online behaviour, and the sensitivity that is often neglected in the proliferation of (mis)information. Effervescent with energy and intention, the production races through a smorgasbord of devised narratives that include the audience’s own – a palette that doesn’t quite manage to paint the full picture.
A woman is accused of paedophilia, and being involved in the disappearance of a young boy from the aforementioned childcare centre. To anxious parents and opportunistic journalists, she is the main culprit as the principal. To a pair of social media influencers, she’s Aunty / Tante Vivian, the neighbour who has been a parental figure to them as siblings from a young age. The audience is privy only to the stories told from those around her, and the missing boy; both personas do not appear on stage at all. The motif of the ‘absent character’ is used effectively here, and their silence underscores the tension unfurling on stage. The uncharitable discourse online results in physical consequences, with an equally anonymous act of vandalism on the woman’s property serving as the climax of the production.
All three performers shifted constantly between multiple roles, and we were transported from living rooms to newsrooms and chat rooms. Their versatility was evident in their sincere portrayals of parents, journalists, and young content creators with a spectrum of moral responsibilities. Their integration of Tan Shao Yun’s multimedia design into live performance was well-rehearsed, yet sustained a sense of organicity.
Overall, the pacing of this particular performance felt slightly uneven. A number of thematic implications were at play — mob mentality / activism, publicly outing LGBTQIA+ individuals without their consent, the effects of technology on interpersonal communication, parent-child / spouse relations, potential sexual grooming / gaslighting, ethical journalism, amongst others. This included an interactive segment with the audience that stagnated after a while, only picking up when the desperate mother of the missing boy jumped into the fray. These were all broached within 70 minutes, which left insufficient room for nuance in the conflicts presented. The text stayed true to its promise of staging multiple perspectives, and encouraging a healthy scepticism of what we encounter online. The diffusion of dramaturgical focus, however, meant that its analysis of the issues at hand remained a still image.
Some fragments of the show were fascinating nonetheless; the disembodied AI-generated voice that characterised the institutions in control of the media, the inherent complexity of the influencer-sibling dyad, and the recreation of the vilification / lynching process that occurs far too often on virtual platforms. I’m looking forward to seeing how Bound Theatre’s investigations into the flames stoked by fake news could continue to deepen. Not unlike real-life firefighting strategies, Screen. Shot. captures the fact that the same battle online has to entail a communal, multi-pronged approach — that aims to target the spread at its source.
Screen. Shot. by Bound Theatre took place from 20 to 22 January 2022 at NAFA Studio Theatre. It was part of M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2022.