Sound and fury, signifying nothing.
In the digital age, where social media can activate an angry mob at a moment’s notice, any information that could spark a flame is enough to turn into a raging wildfire. Tackling this phenomenon is Bound Theatre’s Screen. Shot., where a modern Rashomon-esque plot unfolds, and unveils what happens when rumours spread and dramatises how what you see online, may be much further from the truth than you imagine.
Directed by Juliana Kassim Chan, and written by Dwayne Lim, and starring Yanshan Seet, Patrick Alvarez and Zulfiqar Izzudin, Screen. Shot. sees the online community erupting into chaos when a Primary School student goes missing. Last seen at the Dragonfly After-School Care Centre, with the CCTV footage, Aden, the boy in question, seems to recognise the person at the staircase landing, striding confidently towards them. With the speculation that the perpetrator is someone close to him, netizens begun speculating wildly about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.
Bound Theatre employs an innovative means of presenting the toxicity of social media, demonstrating how quickly fake news spreads on social media, by literally inviting us to be a part of the angry internet mob. Prior to the play, audiences are invited to join the ‘Dragonfly After-School Care Centre’ Telegram group, where we are privy to the rapidly growing number of perspectives, responses and stories about the incident. Later on, after several events have unfolded, audience members are asked to respond to the group, and the feed of responses is projected onscreen before us. The allegations come fast and furious, and it is impossible to read all 500 or so messages that pop up during the show, only intensifying as time goes on. All the genuine responses are completely buried and indistinguishable from the spam, falsehoods, and participants just looking to join in the conversation without any idea what’s going on.
But beyond that novel idea, the remainder of the show comes off somewhat messy, with too many storylines, too many loopholes, and ultimately, no real depth to their exploration of the issues raised. In terms of execution, there are some fatal flaws, such as how when Aden’s mother is informed of his disappearance on the phone in a voiceover, her tone and voice remains calm without worry, undermining the severity of the situation. As one of the earliest scenes establishing the atmosphere and mood of the play, it’s a fatal flaw that already signals to audiences that if his own mother doesn’t care, why should we?
As the story develops, we’re introduced to various other stakeholders involved, from Vivien’s ex-husband, to an opportunistic company, ‘Mangosteam Productions’, capitalising on the crisis for clout on social media. In particular, we’re introduced to a brother and sister, each one a Zoomer influencer who would do anything for attention. It’s clear that no one actually cares about resolving the issue, and even worse, when the brother attempts to throw doubt over the identity of the suspect (his aunt Vivien, the care centre’s chairperson), the anonymous internet mob closes in and crushes him with their uninformed opinions on InstaLive.
Even the mainstream media’s agenda is called into question, as the reporters’ integrity are jeopardised, willing to spin the story to gratuitous heights for extra views. With how the mainstream papers introduces tabloid-style reports of Vivien’s sexuality as a defence, the situation spirals out of control, to the point where the story itself becomes unbelievable and strains our suspension of disbelief of how dystopian this reality is.
By the time we reach the end of the show, it becomes clear that there is a very simple message Screen. Shot. has for us – that the truth is nigh impossible to find when everyone has their own agenda. But that message feels trite when presented with such flat, one-dimensional characters with little depth, whether it’s Mangosteam’s robot-like boss who cares only about profits, or the siblings, who end up turning against each other. Neither direction nor cast are able to salvage this problem, and we feel alienated as audience members throughout the show, none of these characters able to squeeze out an ounce of redemption through their portrayals.
In addition, there are so many ideas and storylines going on talking about the same thing, that the chaos damages our appreciation of the central message, so on the nose and straightforward that it feels hammered over our heads over the course of the entire show. The creators of Screen. Shot. have a fledgling idea of what they want to do, but onstage, these feel only half-realised, with so many directions it goes in and no conclusive resolutions to any of the character arcs or overall narrative. Certainly, beyond tightening the script, Bound Theatre could have afforded to home in on its performers delivering more on emotion and character motivation. Questions are certainly meant to be raised in theatre, but with so many loopholes, it leaves us hanging and ends on a thoroughly unsatisfactory note.
As much as the incidents in Screen. Shot. are relevant, they’re twisted to such extremes that we no longer feel invested in the story, with little done to make us care what happens to any of these vultures looking to profit, or even the missing boy, whose own mother couldn’t care less about his situation, constantly relaxed with no visible panic or concern. The sibling squabble at the end then, is the perfect way to sum up the show – a melodramatic fight over nothing, where they have become so removed from logic that they can’t even ask their own aunt Vivien for the truth. The media circus reaches its peak, but who does it help or entertain? Absolutely no one.
Photo Credit: Bound Theatre
Screen. Shot. ran from 20th to 22nd January 2022 at the NAFA Studio Theatre, as part of the 2022 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. More information available here
The 2022 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival: The Helpers ran from 12th to 23rd January 2022. More information available here