Say yes to Socially [Un]Acceptable this Fringe season and Laura Desmond will demystify consent by revealing exactly what ‘no’ looks like. (Image source: Adelaide Fringe)

By Simone Pickstock | @SimonePickstock

Slumped in an armchair, cradling a cup of tea, I am preparing to watch Laura Desmond’s eerily timely screenplay Socially [Un]Acceptable. Delivered by female-led production team Big Mood, the show was pre-recorded at artist hub The Mill in Adelaide’s CBD late last year. Desmond and her creative collaborator, Steph Mitchell, did not plan to foreshadow recent events currently gripping the nation. Regardless, it is what they have achieved.

The timer on my screen countdowns impatiently. When it hits zero I am transported to the theatre. A single spotlight illuminates the stage, drawing attention to a lonely bar stool. Club music blares through the speakers and Desmond prances into view with an entrance that is deceptively upbeat.

The aim of Socially [Un]Acceptable is to reveal appearances are not always what they seem. Desmond succeeds in her intention by recounting five separate experiences she has had with sexual assault. Through her stories, we discover some people will find any excuse to create ambiguity where there is none.

From start to finish her storytelling is vulnerable, raw and deeply personal. She uses flashbacks to emotionally engage the crowd and her re-enactments force us to question morality. This is largely due to all her vignettes exploring themes of uncertainty and guilt. Her choice to expose these conundrums, those so often debated in our community, is clever and deliberate.

Desmond knows there is power in placing her viewers intimately within the conflict. She asks us if it was her fault she could not say ‘no’ because she was crying. She begs us to examine whether the man pinning her down is oblivious to her limp and inanimate body. The viewer begins to wonder, ‘Are these cues really too subtle to recognise, or is this “the kind of shit that flies under the radar”’ in what Desmond hesitantly terms, “socially acceptable sexual assaults”.  

Socially [Un]Acceptable is not funny, uplifting or light-hearted: it is poignant, moving and devastating. You will not switch off feeling giddy. Instead, you will sit in disbelief wondering if your friends or family have ever suffered the same.

Desmond’s courage to lend her voice to the voiceless is to be applauded. She is dismantling stigma and her message sings. For the sake of progress, Socially [Un]Acceptable is a song society must hear on repeat until reform is achieved.

Audiences walk away with Desmond’s message in the forefront of their minds, echoing the rhetoric of today: “If each and every person here can walk away and tell somebody else about my stories, their own stories, or just talk about the state of sexual assault in general, then that will help move us forward.”

Socially [Un]Acceptable is available to stream until March 19 2021.

If you or anyone you know has been impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence and needs help, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.