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BWW Reviews: STATUS - Real Stories Provoking Real Reflection

Matt Hickey in Status (Photo: Lachlan Woods)

Status was created based on a series of interviews conducted with those impacted by HIV - be they people who tested positive or those around them. The frank and explicit nature of the dialogue makes it clear that there is no intent to soften the message. Brooding self-reflection is an inevitable consequence of witnessing Status. For this Status is to be commended and has positively achieved its purpose.

Confronting is perhaps the best way to describe Status. A production affiliated with the International AIDS Conference, which is currently taking place in Melbourne, Status challenges every audience member and certainly makes them feel uncomfortable at least once, if not more. There is no escaping the sad reality of the Cameron Menzies directed production. Shane Thompson's set design accompanied by Gordon Boyd's lighting mean that the audience cannot avoid the sad reality conveyed in Status. There are no flashy sets. No exquisite costumes. No fancy transitions. There is definitely nowhere to hide. This is one of the strengths of the production - the fundamental issues and challenges presented by Status are not diluted by distractions that afford the audience an easy way out. It is arguably a fine example of impact theatre - a show that packs an emotional punch and forces reflection and questioning from all who witness its strong dialogue.

Set on a dark stage with minimal lighting, each actor tells several real stories that highlight the varied impact of HIV. It is immediately apparent from the stories that HIV is not the concern of a singular generation. Rather, it is an ongoing concern that plagues all of society. Each story, while having a distinctive aspect, also shares some sad commonalities with the others that are told. Primary of these is the impact of discovering a person is HIV positive - both for the infected person and those they know. Themes of fear, rejection, confrontation, and stereotyping are prominent in all of the stories.

Sadly, the collective narratives suggest that as much as medicine may have developed to enhance the life of those infected by HIV there remains an overall stigmatic reaction to HIV in the wider society. This message is especially clear from the stories of those who counseled HIV positive individuals or who baulked at getting to know a person merely because they were positive. The presentation of these stories, while challenging to witness are crucial to the central purpose of Status, that being to highlight the stigma that is applied to HIV.

Credit must go to the four actors who deliver the material. The characters portrayed by the actors are anonymous. You can approximate an age from the nature of the respective story, but the roles are merely listed as voices in the program. These are the voices of those impacted. Kath Gordon, Matt Hickey, Will Conyers, and Brigid Gallacher deliver forthright material that, while explicit at times, is not excessively lascivious to the point that it loses impact and meaning. As a result the stories are conveyed in a direct and affectively impacting manner. The cast members have nowhere to hide on stage and the audience is unable to hide from their often-somber dialogue. The anonymity of the stories told is also striking for its effectiveness as a narrative ploy. Such anonymity reinforces that HIV is not isolated to specific individuals - it is a wider issue that everyone must confront and comprehend. While putting a name to the individual stories may make them seem more 'real', I also suspect that doing so would also serve to make them more marginal. As long as the characters have no set name and no set age they could be anyone, thus enhancing their impact. Consistent with this, Status avoids any excessive dependence on traditional HIV stereotypes - such as that of it being a gay man's disease. The scope of the stories and their anonymity make it clear that HIV is a wider community concern. Therein is one of the key strengths of the structure of Status - the audience link to the stories is paradoxically strengthened by each story's anonymity. Essentially, by being about nobody in particular they could be about anybody in general. This prevents the audience from pigeon holing or dismissing based on an attribute such as a name or age. Upon reflection it becomes apparent that this characterization strategy is decidedly consistent with the overall message of Status - do not dismiss or stigmatise based on a single attribute of a person.

As tough as it is for the characters in each story to process their individual experiences, it is actually tougher for the audience members to watch. Not because the play is poorly done. It is, in fact, brilliantly executed. The difficulty lays in the forced self-reflection as you process the subject matter. Status compels you to think, to wonder, "How would I react? What would I do in that situation?" In answering such questions it fast becomes clear from Status that as much as medical technology may have advanced there are some things that have not progressed as rapidly. Prominent among these is the reaction that HIV generates. Whether provoked by fear, ignorance, or misconception, those infected face hardships beyond the fact alone that they are positive.

We may not be able to cure the HIV infection at this stage, but with works like Status we can hopefully go some way to curing the social barriers that positive people face. You should see Status. It will make you feel uncomfortable. It will be confronting. It will provoke self-reflection and questioning. It is the invocation of such affective reactions that makes Status so effective in attaining its ambition. It is only through such actions of collective self-reflection that there can be a change to the status of those impacted by HIV.

DETAILS:
WHEN: Wednesday 23 July - 2pm & 9pm; Thursday 24 & Friday 25 July - 9pm; Saturday 26 July - 3pm & 9pm
COST: Adults $40; Concessions (FT Students, Pensioners, Seniors) $37
WHERE: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Melbourne
BOOKINGS: Phone 1300 182 183 or online at http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/theatre-drama/status-inform-perform-transform
WEB: http://www.statustheplay.com

PHOTO CREDIT: Lachlan Woods


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