reviews and recommendations

Sonya Kelly: How to Keep an Alien

Aged seven and tasked by her schoolteacher with writing about either ‘my day at school’ or ‘my adventure with an alien’, Sonya Kelly would always plump for the former. You see, she’d never met an alien “and you should always write what you know, right?”.

It’s just as well, then, that many years later Sonya did in fact encounter her alien  – stage manager ‘Kate from Queensland’ – giving audiences the chance to experience this humorous and heart-warming rendition of the couple’s real-life adventures through lust, love, visa applications and an awful lot of paperwork.

Writer and performer Sonya is joined on set by the play’s own stage manager Justin Murphy who steps into the performance at times, operates the play’s lighting and sound, and throws many a sassy glance at Sonya. It’s something of a nod to the dynamic of Sonya’s first meetings with Kate, in which the pair broke the monotony of long-winded rehearsals for the Russian play they were working on by exchanging jokey looks and, amusingly, various imagined death scenes.

Happily, Sonya’s enjoyment of her own show is unmistakeable, set against her distaste for the Russian play with its endless dancing and English accents (because that’s how you know it’s the olden days, obviously).

The most intoxicating fun of Sonya’s performance arises as she regales her flirtations ‘Irish-style’ with Kate, from luxuriating over the exotic comforts of her home – ‘come to mine and check out my immersion, it’s got dual switches’ – to pouring out an impassioned letter of longing and ‘pure filth’ on the back of a sandwich bag.

Directed by Gina Moxley, Sonya’s animated storytelling makes, for the most part, for glee-filled watching, with conspiratorial winks to the audience inviting us on side. Occasionally Sonya loses us during more surreal patches of the narrative, but she soon recaptures our interest with a quirky observation or deliciously cheeky comment.

Woven into the performance are the twin paper trails that underscore the play throughout. The first is the two years’ worth of receipts, tickets, photos and testimonials the couple must catalogue to document the authenticity of their relationship for Irish immigration officials. The second is a series of moving letters written in the 19th century by Kate’s great-great grandmother Ann Flanagan to her parents back in Ireland during an arduous journey emigrating towards a new life in Australia.

Interspersed throughout Sonya’s story (at times a little clumsily), the extracts draw attention to the very different modern challenges of an Australian attempting to settle with her Irish partner and needing to overcome not treacherous seas but exacting immigration officers.

It is hope that drives both narratives forward in this charming tale of exhilaration, frustration, determination and, above all, love.

Sonya Kelly’s show How to Keep an Alien is at the Soho Theatre until 19th December. For more information and tickets click here!