Theatre: Capturing the angry Singaporean

(From left) Dwayne Lau, Siti Khalijah Zainal, Sharda Harrison and Joshua Lim in The Necessary Stage’s upcoming production, Poor Thing.

These days, actress Siti Khalijah Zainal gets a little nervous when she takes public transport.

She says with a laugh: "It's making me more and more paranoid because at any time, for any reason, people can just whip out their phones to take a photo or video. I keep thinking, what did I do wrong, I didn't do anything, right?"

The 28-year-old is not dodging the paparazzi but Singapore's new wave of virtual vigilantes, an angry online mob given to hounding those who either commit a misdeed or run their mouths off.

Two recent targets were British expatriate Anton Casey, whose recent comments on the "stench" of public transport eventually saw him leaving the country, and alleged road bully Quek Zhen Hao, who later uploaded a video to apologise.

This spate of stormy situations and explosive reactions and the way they go viral is the subject of The Necessary Stage's upcoming production, Poor Thing, which runs from Wednesday to March 9.

Held at its Black Box theatre, it features actors Siti and Dwayne Lau as best friends, and Joshua Lim and Sharda Harrison as a married couple who get into a minor car accident. The volatile situation escalates into a tussle both physical and virtual.

The show will not be the regular sit-down affair. The audience is encouraged to wander around the theatre space - which contains two partially dismantled cars - and comment on the action on Facebook.

Ticket-holders will be invited to "befriend" one of the characters on Facebook the day before the show and they will also get to watch a video of the fictional car accident.

Each of the four actors revealed, some sheepishly, that they had entertained the idea of telling strangers off publicly - whether because of an invasion of personal space on an MRT train or overhearing cafe wait staff complaining about them for no apparent reason.

Poor Thing's playwright Haresh Sharma, 49, recalls the time the company toured Japan and Harrison's voluminous hair was invading other commuters' personal space on the train. He quietly told her about it when passengers began to stare.

To fits of laughter from the cast, Harrison, 26, said: "Now when I go on the train, I actually bun my hair up. What? I'm being considerate."

Director Alvin Tan, 51, founder of The Necessary Stage, says the seed for this play began nearly a year ago with the question: Why are Singaporeans so angry these days?

He says: "When I was in New York City, I experienced rage on the street. I thought, Singapore will never be like this, we're so timid. And yet it's becoming like that. Not as severe, but it's there.

"I guess it's because we are now better educated and more open, and we've become more eloquent and aware of our rights. We're acutely aware when people are insensitive towards us and I think that's when we become more assertive of our rights."

The cast and creative team watched online videos of people having fights and realised they "tend to be very angry and vulgar, and they repeat themselves all the time", as Sharma puts it.

Lim, 28, says responses to these videos tend to be very visceral: "People jump to conclusions so quickly. We aren't able to just pause and take a breath before hearing from the other side."

Siti agrees: "We automatically blame the person being filmed in these videos. But sometimes, it's the person doing the filming who is the actual bully. They just take it for no rhyme or reason.

"And because people visit websites such as Stomp, The Straits Times' citizen journalism website, looking at videos and laughing, people are always on the lookout for moments like these to happen so they can capture it on video and say, 'eh, my video has 10,000 views'. It's very scary."

But on a positive note, director Tan feels that airing these videos also means that emotions and views are out in the open, not buried deep within and waiting to fester or implode.

And Poor Thing wrestles with these impulses.

He says: "It's transparent. As a nation, we should think, okay, so what do we do if our own prejudice and discrimination are exposed in our immediate judgment. What can we do about that?"

Book it:

POOR THING (R18)

Where: The Necessary Stage Black Box, Marine Parade Community Building, B1-02, 278 Marine Parade Road

When: February 26 to March 9. Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. No shows on Monday and Tuesday

Admission: 23 to $31 from Peatix (go to http://poorthing.peatix.com)

Info: Rated R18 for mature theme and coarse language

corriet@sph.com.sg

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.