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Not defined by rape

Nerida Dickinson: Project Xan

Xan Fraser, Daisy Coyle, Project Xan Xan Fraser, Daisy Coyle, Project Xan
photo Daniel James Grant

Taking to the stage as herself, Xan Fraser revisits traumatic childhood experiences to shine a light on how our society continues to accept a rape culture. Fraser, a firm central presence in Project Xan, tells an unfolding story of her rape when aged 12, in 1981, and the horrors of medical and legal examinations in its aftermath. Verbatim courtroom transcript excerpts reveal that, in a system unable to consider a rape victim as innocent, Xan was blamed for the circumstances of the gang rape and that when sentencing was being determined, judicial sympathy was expressed for the rapists.

Xan’s memories and her reflections on them play out between vignettes that address today’s rape culture in terms of dictionary definitions and problematic beliefs and behaviours evident in pop song lyrics and contemporary cases that continue to feature victim-blaming.

Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marco Jovanovic, Project Xan Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marco Jovanovic, Project Xan
photo Daniel James Grant

Addressing both the audience and her younger self, played by Daisy Coyle, Fraser guides us through the events and the impacts that lie behind dry legal jargon. Physically convincing as a 12-year-old, the 19-year-old Coyle expresses bewilderment and naivety in responding to unjust questions posed by doctors and lawyers at a time when Xan lacked a supportive adult. Fraser’s presence as a sympathetic observer allows her to explain events to the traumatised child.

The limited stage space is strongly defined by the miniature skating rink which skirts it, recalling Xan’s original plan for the evening, to go rollerskating with a friend. Coyle deftly skates by as watching adults discuss Xan’s sexual appetite. Her freedom of physical expression contrasts vividly with Fraser’s account of the rape and its ramifications for her adolescent life.

Project Xan Project Xan
photo Daniel James Grant

Fraser and Coyle are supported onstage by Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marko Jovanovic and Nick Maclaine who, in basic black T-shirts— printed with slogans which sometimes appear on casual wear, relating to issues of consent, rape humour and the denigration of female sexuality—appear in the issue-based vignettes and play roles in hospital and courtroom scenes. The vignettes resonate at many levels with Xan’s own story when she turns from considering the devastation of her young dreams to recalling walking onstage at a stand-up gig where she was abused by the comedian for not appreciating his jokes about sexual attacks.

The central story of Project Xan carries additional weight in having Fraser herself onstage. Acknowledging what she suffered was horrible, she refuses to let herself be defined by the crime, the trial, the blaming, shaming and ostracism; instead, Fraser celebrates the triumphs of her life since. Addressing a difficult subject, writer-director Hellie Turner’s Project Xan delivers a powerful message about the need for cultural change.

Xan Fraser, Project Xan Xan Fraser, Project Xan
photo Daniel James Grant

jedda Productions and The Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Project Xan, writer, director Hellie Turner, consultant, dramaturg David Williams, performers Xan Fraser, Daisy Coyle, Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marko Jovanovic, Nick Maclaine, design consultant Lawrie Cullen-Tait, lighting Chris Donnelly, composer, sound Ash Gibson Greig; PICA Performance Space, Perth, 8-19 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016 pg.

© Nerida Dickinson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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