Saturday 1 September 2018

Hypothetical: What If? - Event Review

What: Hypothetical - What If?
When: 30 August 2018
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Created and written by: Michele Lee
Performed by: Dr Julian Bruce, Steve Cameron, Justin Dunlop, Jem Lai, Dr Cassidy Nelson, and Dr Ines Rio
Sound by: Russell Goldsmith
Steve Cameron, Dr Julian Bruce, Justin Dunlop, Dr Cassidy Nelson, and Dr Ines Rio
This weekend Arts House is doing what it has done best over the last few years and brings us the immersive, live art, installation, experiential event Refuge 2018: Pandemic. Following on from the 2017 event Refuge 2017: Heatwave, the team have changed the scenario from climate change to viral outbreak and in a Geoffrey Robertson style Hypothetical: What If? forum, disease control professionals were brought together to tell us what would happen in the event of a pandemic outbreak of the Melbourne Flu.

Written by Michele Lee, the evening starts with a daunting scenario broadcast (performed by Josh Price) which chronicles the breakdown of society as we are overtaken by a pandemic outbreak of a new deadly virus dubbed the Melbourne Flu. The scene is set for a night of terror and across the stage are seated a panel of serious looking experts covering the gamut including Steven Cameron from Emergency Management, Dr Bruce from Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory, Justin Dunlop from Ambulance Victoria, Dr Nelson from DHHS, and Dr Ines Rio from Melbourne Primary Health Network.

Leading us through this night of trauma, we are in the sure hands of...wait, where is she? It turns out our facilitator just didn't show up. Instead it was her assistant (Lai) who is left holding the bag - or clipboard really - and who has to maneuver her way through her own nerves and inexperience whilst at the same time maneuvering us through this hypothetical scenario as well as an all Australian remake of the movie Contagion.

Hypothetical: What If? was a wonderful combination of fiction and fact. The Melbourne Flu might be hypothetical, but the responses outlined by our emergency response professionals was based on real best practice and provided us with great and important insight as to what might happen, timelines, triage and priorities.

Dr Rio talked about what presentations would have to occur for GP's to start the investigations. Dr Bruce told us about the identification process and also what the timelines are for creating vaccines for a new flu strain. It will take at least 3 months in case you are interested, and that first batch will go to front line responders. The second batch (for the community) will take 6 months so in the words of the great Douglas Adams 'Don't Panic', just focus on looking after each other. Oh, and don't call an ambulance because they will only respond to life and death situations.

When the Melbourne Flu hits people will die, hospitals will be full, and Fever Clinics will be set up all over the city. Stay home, look after each other and try to quarantine yourselves and your loved ones.

Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn't it? But as more and more people get sick businesses shut down, the economy slows, public transport stops running because all the drivers are sick, and - basically - society breaks down. Dr Nelson's team at DHHS have considered all of this though and they have strategies in place. Their entire job is to continually plan for and practice mass emergency catastrophe situations, and Cameron's team at Emergency Management are out in the community applying sticky tape where the glue is coming unstuck.

Of course, our young assistant is struggling to maintain focus and in between panic attacks about how she got the job, she is having flashbacks of the moving Contagion. Suddenly the audience finds themselves conscripted into her little drama, acting out the scenes although things seem to have gone a bit wonky because instead of Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, and Kate Winslet we have Eric Bana, Delta Goodrem, and Hugh Jackman playing out the drama.

The point of Hypothetical: What If? was not to scare us silly though. It was actually a great chance to get us prepared for what would happen and how we would handle it. After all, these kind of outbreaks are not uncommon. Remember Swine Flu? Bird Flu?

The Spanish Flu had it's centenary anniversary this year (it occurred in 1918) and this was the impetus for Refuge 2018: Pandemic. The Spanish Flu infected 500 million people around the entire globe and approximately 5% of the world population died. In a society which gets around globally at a much faster rate than ever before, it is not unreasonable to be wary of any new contagion and to be prepared for the realities and avoid mass hysteria and unnecessary confusion and trauma.

One of the great genius moments of the night though was when Russell Crowe appeared in our version of Contagion as Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Lee artfully reminds us there are much worse things which can happen in Australia than a pandemic - and they are happening right now.

Hypothetical: What If? was a great night of fun and knowledge with a lot of laughter and frivolity thrown in. It made me realise just how much I miss Robertson's 'Hypotheticals' and I really hope someone does a reboot. We are about due I reckon.

4.5 Stars

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