It is a truth universally acknowledged that a fiction writer in possession of a good tale must be in want of an audience. In the absence of a publishing contract or an appreciative family member/housemate, such an audience can be difficult to reach. Equally so, if Sydney’s lovers of literature fancy a night out to indulge their passions, all too often an evening browsing the shelves of late-trading bookstore Better Read Than Dead is the only option on offer (perhaps with a few sips from one’s hip flask if it’s a Friday). But fear not courageous scribblers and fiction devourers alike, Penguin Plays Rough is at hand.
PPR is run by Pip Smith and Amelia Schmidt and takes place on the third Monday evening of each month at Ms Smith’s abode in Newtown. Audience members pay five dollars at the door and are thus ushered into Ms Smith’s sitting room where they are treated to a variable smorgasbord of fresh-faced literary talent. In fact, just as Netherfield may have been a beacon of erotically charged hope to the Bennet sisters, so too may 475 King St represent a positive shift in the leisure-time habits of Sydney’s literary folk (albeit in a less erotically charged way). All too often, events aimed at such people involve a minor celebrity launching a cookbook, or a bookshop crammed with sporting fans hoping to get the autograph of the latest footballer-turned-diarist. This need not be the case.
Monday 19 April saw the fifteenth meeting of PPR, and the talent on offer was outstanding. For this PPR first-timer, it was all too easy to imagine a slew of converse-wearing, emotionally damaged Joyce fans using onion metaphors to explore their existential crises. What was on offer turned out to be quite the opposite (no offence intended toward Joyce fans, or wearers of converse sneakers). The line-up for the evening included the winner of the Adelaide Fringe Festival’s people’s choice award, Tim Spencer; Canadian writer and comedian, DeAnne Smith; Lexi Freiman; Annalise Constable and Felicity Castagana – as well as several wild card writers.
In my humble opinion, DeAnne Smith and 2004 SOYA winner Felicity Castagana were the absolute standouts. DeAnne treated the audience to a witty tale about vengeful, cha-cha dancing elephants and Felicity gave much-needed voice to citizens of Surfer’s Paradise, particularly those with parents who work as Fidel Castro impersonators.
If one of life’s great joys is to read imaginative and thoughtful fiction, to listen to it performed with such finesse is enough to make one wish it was 19th century England. The art of reading aloud and the joy of listening (while in the company of so many accomplished young ladies and gentlemen) are not to be underestimated.