From simple Irish fling to fine theatre thing

How To Keep An Alien (Rough Magic)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 23 – 27

Storytelling has long been a part of the tradition of Irish theatre. And Sonya Kelly tells a good story. In her autobiographical solo-ish show “How To Keep An Alien”, she tells an engaging, but never clichéd love story.

Opening with a play within a play, the show tells of Kelly’s romance with Australian woman ‘Kate from Queensland’. After their time working together on Russian play with Irish accents in an English castle, the two enjoy a giddy two weeks of promises without permanence. However, from this delicious mess, their romance evolves from fling to thing. With Kate’s visa expiration, she is forced to leave the beautiful Irish people of her spirit home behind and what follows is a string of bureaucratic battles and long-distance romance as the pair set about compiling the two-year paper trail of moments needed to prove their authenticity as a couple and apply for a de facto visa for Kate.

At once self-effacing and vulnerable, Kelly is a bumbling yet likable protagonist, equally able to find humour in the banal and stressful moments of the story. The simple set is functional and a little rough around the edges, resulting in a more relaxed and intimate performance. And popular music adds some interest, including a memorable rendition of ‘Bright Eyes’ from Stage Manager Justin.

“How To Keep An Alien” showcases a refreshing script that avoids the melodrama and excessive sentiment to which relationship dramas can so easily fall victim, and avoids temptation into political commentary. The sections of the story that chronicle Sonya’s trepidation at meeting Kate’s family on a trip to Australia are particularly hilarious, not only through her bang-on okka Aussie accent, but her fear of its wildlife and detestation of camping. For the audience never to meet Kate really works, adding poignancy to the show’s final scene – a slideshow tribute to the real-life Sonya and Kate’s chronicled romance and coupledom.

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A good story has to have both an element of singularity and a universal appeal.  “How To Keep An Alien” not only has both of these, but, in its tale of accelerated romance, a humour and humility that makes it a highly entertaining theatre experience. Here’s hoping we see some more fine Irish storytelling magic in Brisbane soon.

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