Sydney – the dodgy end of Newtown – King Street – near the start-up designer shops with no merchandise – next door to the antique store that sells second-hand pre-loved dolls – above the crummy convenience store on the corner – you’ll find the home of PENGUIN plays ROUGH.

Photo by Lucy Parakhina


I arrived late for the literary event. Actually, that’s not true. I waited at the bus stop for a friend who never arrived and was scared sober by the haircuts of the people attending. When I walked up the stairs I found out the share house was full. But I could listen to events in the front room from the corridor.

I imagine everyone has the same thought that Pip Smith and Co. have made an event of: why don’t I turn my share house into a den of creativity and debauchery?

The first act took the stage (when I say stage I mean a wooden stoop, a pole light with a lampshade, and a chair any Nanna would be happy to die in) and went through a yoga relaxation session, minus the usual orchestra of Asian trinket instruments.

A man in a black hooded cape carried a white laptop and stalked the corridor. A scheduled performer, no doubt, and not a wildcard from the audience.

A Blonde and Brunette stood next to me and sniggered as we counted down from ten: inhaling, exhaling, letting the stress of the day go with our breath.

Between acts B & B planned a hasty exit to the car for malt wine and biscuits.

But the show must go on:

A short story read in dulcet tones about homosexual love affair, or a French housemate who wouldn’t return a book, or both, I’m not sure; humour that fell a little flat and was then compounded by technical difficulties; a serious poem, near inaudible in the corridor, that was merciful in its brevity.

At intermission the raffle prize was spruiked: Miranda July’s, No One Belongs Here More Than You. I turned to the Blonde, who was without the Brunette by her side, and said: how appropriate. I remembered the aforementioned biscuits in the car, and what with the stale smell of pot and skipping dinner I was quite hungry.

But this is the lesson I learned without getting hurt: Sydney is the city of villagers, a city of small circles. The Blonde and I share a mutual friend. She doesn’t know this. And that mutual friend and the Blonde are sworn enemies of my best friend.

Unlike poetry readings that linger on long enough for most to sober up while the cowards gather their courage, the best acts were saved for the final set.

The caped man came on to tell some charming fairytales set some time before the invention of the iPhone. There was an artfully told night out / drunk fuck story, complete with flakes of snot and a play by play, blow by blow commentary. And you can take that to mean anything you want. But the star performance was by Alice Williams. A mixture of Victorian gothic poetry, modern convenience prose and absurb epigrams, yet it all had an emotional cohesiveness.

Throughout the night performers serviced the theme: MOTEL, unlocking the stories behind seven slides of the one motel room. Ms. Williams only used one slide, a lights out, no flash shot of the room, but changed it, again and again, with a turn of phrase. And that, in the end, is what makes a literary event.

She also wore a veil, spoke in a false Old English accent and clanged saucepan lids together. And that, just to start with, is what PENGUIN plays ROUGH is about.

PENGUIN plays ROUGH is held every third Monday of the month, 8pm, at 475 King street.

PENGUIN plays ROUGH #12 was curated by Luke Tipene from Monthly Friend

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