How to Keep an Alien

How to Keep an Alien is an autobiographical story written and performed by Irish actress Sonya Kelly. It is, as advertised, ‘a story about falling in love and proving it to the government’, but it is also an enchanting piece of theatre. Kelly, with the help of her fellow performer and stage manager Justin Murphy, takes us through each stage of the process, through every small emotion and thought that she experienced.

Imaginatively realised, fantastically written, and endlessly engaging play.

Kelly’s storytelling is vivid and effective, aided by her own beautifully expressive script, which is full of surprising elements and lyrical themes that recur throughout and are thus rendered more powerful. The use of the letters of a Victorian relative who made the fraught journey from Ireland to Australia over one hundred years ago serves to emphasise the constancy of the emotional toll of moving country and its often heartbreaking consequences.

How to Keep an Alien is a happy immigration story, in which ultimately love conquers law - admittedly an extraordinarily lucky circumstance. While Alien sticks to its own story, being an autobiography, it is to be commended for not skirting around or ignoring the larger issues of more desperate situations, even if it only confronts them to recognise the privilege of Kelly’s situation, despite the undeniable struggle she went through.

Kelly and Murphy are both excellent performers. Kelly is unassuming, energetic, and extremely relatable. Her manner remains chatty and relaxed towards her audience throughout which, in combination with her introduction of herself as ‘your performer for today’ and Justin as ‘my stage manager’, makes the atmosphere of this play laid-back, giving it the feel of the storytelling session that it ultimately is over that of a more formal theatrical fiction. The piece is also very, very funny. All of this amounts to a real investment from the audience in her relationship and its ultimate success. Because of this, the ending is truly beautiful. Having taken you through her journey in intense detail, expressing the absurdity of having to prove love in the form of paperwork, Kelly gives the audience a glimpse of this paperwork, their dossier, in a beautiful and satisfying finale.

As I was leaving, one audience member described this play as ‘darling, just darling’. Alien is indeed just that, but also much more. It is a imaginatively realised, fantastically written, and endlessly engaging play.

Reviews by Laurie Kilmurry

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The Blurb

How to Keep an Alien: A story about falling in love and proving it to the government. Sonya Kelly (The Wheelchair on My Face, Fringe First Award 2012) is back with a tearfully funny, tender memoir about securing an Irish visa for her Australian partner. Join her madcap odyssey from the stony townlands of Ireland to the leafy depths of the Queensland bush. It’s a tricky business coming from opposite ends of the earth. It takes a hell of a lot of paperwork.

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