The Tiger Dublin Fringe show, ‘How To Keep An Alien’, juxtaposes a lesbian love story against the bureaucracy of the Irish immigration system, delivering plenty of laughs along the way, says Christine Allen
Sonya Kelly’s one-woman (well, almost one-woman) show opens in the midst of another play, a Russian production performed in a castle in County Offaly. It’s during the run of this play that Sonya meets stage manager Kate, and their love story begins.
I’ve been aware of Sonya for a while, through her appearances on RTÉ’s The Savage Eye, and her previous show, Wheelchair on My Face, in which she charted her journey through life with spectacles. Wheelchair was directed by Gina Moxley, who takes up the mantle again for this Rough Magic production.
Kate is from Queensland, and Sonya nails the Ozzie accent perfectly when relaying her newfound friend’s opinion that Ireland and its people are ‘beautiful’, and her realisation that she is the ‘people’ that Kate is referring to.
Their two-week whirlwind romance is however overshadowed by Kate’s imminent departure from Ireland (she has received correspondence the powers that be, informing her that her one-year holiday visa is about to expire). Sonya’s parting gift to Kate is a ten euro note, with ‘Matilda Rose’s College Fund’ scrawled across it. (Matilda Rose is their imagined future child.)
To the immense pleasure of anyone who enjoys a happy ending, Kate however returns, following the receipt of a gesture of ‘permanence’ from Sonya – a heartfelt a letter hastily written on a sandwich bag.
Far from an ending, however, their story is just beginning, as the pair embark on a journey, strewn with obstacles, to obtain a de facto visa for Kate. If recognised as Sonya’s partner by the State, Kate will be allowed to remain in Ireland. Their struggle takes us to the Immigration Bureau with its impassive pen pushers and endless reams of guidelines, all the way to Queensland and back again to Offaly.
Despite all the globetrotting, the stage setting for How To Keep An Alien is simplicity itself – two desks, a number of bookshelves and study lamps – which lend the proceedings a homely vibe to the stage. The main prop is a large binder, symbolising the paperwork the couple need to collect in order to prove the legitimacy of their relationship to those who determine their future together. A book containing letters written by Kate’s Irish ancestors, the Flanagans, on their sea voyage to Australia, also features.
It’s serious stuff, but Sonya keeps the audience in stitches. Slow-building tension (helped by sound effects) as she waits for an appointment at the Immigration Bureau is balanced with frantic verbalised concerns regarding her future with Kate.
Sometimes the balance goes a bit off-kilter, as when Sonya gets lost in a Queensland forest while camping with Kate and her family. Overdone sound effects tend to add to the drawn-out quality of this segment, but for the most part the pace of the show rarely lags.
In the final scene photos of the couple are projected at the back of the stage, together with images of letters of support compiled by friends and family, written in an attempt to prove to the powers at be that Sonya and Kate’s love is genuine. After all the comedy and high-octane chatter it’s a beautiful and moving reminder of the real relationship at the heart of this wonderful show. If you like your comedy peppered with romance and underlined with socio-politics, make sure you check out How To Keep an Alien while it’s still at the Fringe. It’s truly out of this world.
How To Keep An Alien runs at the Tiger Dublin Fringe in the Project Arts Centre until Saturday, September 13, booking here.
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