Review by Cicely Binford
I’d like to preface my review of this show with an acknowledgement of how significant context and social climate is to art. Project Xan opened on the same day that the world found out who the next American President would be, and the two events are now inextricably linked in my conscience (and in the conscience of many others who also attended the show last night), and in my experience as an Australian-American woman. As much as I feel that arts reviewers should refrain from putting too much directly personal commentary around a piece of art, in this particular circumstance, I feel compelled to break my own rules to a degree, and possibly expose a little more bias than usual to this particular subject matter.
Project Xan is a theatre piece that speaks to each and every one of us personally, and it comes at a time when the current discussion of the pervasiveness of rape culture is at a peak. For this reason, Project Xan is the medicine we need to come from the art world, and a fitting counterpoint to the American election, which highlighted the horrors of male privilege. Project Xan is documentary theatre. It is frank, it is direct, it is not subtle, it has an agenda. It is not ‘entertainment.’ It is a special kind of piece that is born out of necessity: the necessity to address uncomfortable events, ideas, words, feelings and people, the necessity to tell a story, and the necessity to have that story heard loud and clear.
It’s not always a perfect production. On opening night, a few of the sound cues don’t quite hit their mark, giving the pace a bit of a halting feel. Perhaps the AV is basic, perhaps the dialogue is overtly didactic, perhaps the piece’s structure jars on occasion. But let’s put all that aside for the moment and take a good hard look at what Project Xan excels at and where its power lies. Project Xan doesn’t shy away from its purpose: Xan Fraser and writer/director Hellie Turner have told Fraser’s story in as straightforward and unforgiving a manner as possible. The courage that both of them have exhibited to bring Fraser’s terrible ordeal to the stage is extraordinary.
For Turner to drive directly and unflinchingly into subjects which are still mostly only alluded to or avoided altogether in Perth theatre is a feat. She must have had times of doubt as a writer and storyteller, an impulse to back away or use metaphor, symbolism, and euphemism. There must have been moments when pointing the finger at men gave her pause – or maybe not. Maybe the conviction to create this piece overrode any of those kinds of doubts the rest of us would have.
For Xan Fraser to overcome the trauma she faced as a young girl – the rape, the shunning, the shaming, the confusion, the self-destructiveness, the judgement and the abuse she experienced during and after her rape – to then rise up to face an audience from centre stage and open her life to the public, again, is nothing short of astounding. I hope that being a performer in her own story, rather than bringing her renewed pain from reliving the trauma, brings her immense strength, resolve and comfort that she is a survivor, a beacon, and a teacher to everyone who will hear her story over the next couple of weeks.
Daisy Coyle plays young Xan, spending most of the show in roller skates; young Xan is an innocent, but she has a fire about her that hints at the underlying strength that will see her through to present-day Xan. Fraser plays herself, present-day Xan, and walks us through the true events that brought her here, calling forth the memories living within young Xan. Three more committed and invested performers, Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marko Jovanovic and Nick Maclaine provide supports around Fraser’s story and also engage in short vignettes that address the different ways that rape culture and slut-shaming operate in the world today.
Project Xan contains things that all of us can benefit from, male or female. Even if you’ve never been a victim of sexual assault, rape, or slut-shaming, chances are, whether you realise it or not, you know someone who has. And the more we listen to victims’ stories like Fraser’s and begin to understand how we all perpetuate the culture, the better off we’ll be. And in the wake of the election of a sexual predator being elected to the highest office in America, escaping repercussions from his disgusting attitudes toward women, and justifying the behavior of men who think and act just like him, we need works like Project Xan now more than ever.
For more information and tickets, visit the PICA website here.