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Edinburgh Fringe 2015

How to Keep an Alien

Sonya Kelly

Genre: Drama

Venue: The Traverse Theatre


Low Down

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.


When I walked into the lovely Traverse Theatre and was greeted cheerily but casually by a fit young man explaining he was out of breath from a workout and I saw the bookshelves stacked not with books but with table lamps of all shapes and sizes, I will confess, I got worried. When Sonya Kelly strolled in and introduced herself as the performer and the young man whose name it turns out is Justin as her tech/occasional scene partner and the show just sort of begins, I didn’t know what to think.

My fears and doubts were so immediately, fully and delightfully assuaged as to make this reviewer slightly embarrassed at her own hesitation. What followed was undoubtedly one of the funniest and most articulate recounting of the immigration debacle I suspect has ever existed.

Suddenly in the able hands of master story spinner and comedienne Kelly, the simple set and wall of lights became an epic adventure of love, loss, and redemption; the classic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl story sans the boy however the politics of the show land not in the genders of our two cinderellas but squarely in the red tape of the Irish Immigration Office, the evil stepmother of this grown up fairy tale.

Sonya Kelly is awkward and endearing, so completely comfortable in her own skin, and an absolute wordsmith with impeccable comedic timing. Every joke landed, every look, every beat and breath so perfectly timed and orchestrated yet with such a light, unstuffy informality as to make you feel as though you weren’t in a theatre at all but rather sitting in the living room, listening to a friend vent about her love life while looking at old home movies but with the added bonus of your friend being a brilliant linguist, poet and comedic genius. For a sapiosexual such as myself, (it’s a word) I was just hanging on every beautiful turn of phrase and crushing a bit on our protagonist.

One more mention of light fixtures, which I’ll admit I quite fixated upon, but it bears mention as they were used so beautifully to represent all the people Sonya and her would be love Kate encounter in their seemingly endless battle for legal status, a journey this American Anglospouse knows a little too well.

With flashes back and forth through time, appropriately ungraceful video and audio technology and glimpses into the mind of Sonya, which break into the reality of life, this show reminded me a bit of a live action Allie McBeal (is that too American a reference), which draws the best from a legacy of female comics and sketch artists but with a unique, original voice. Part theatre, part cabaret, part lecture and all heart, How to Keep an Alien kept this alien thoroughly entertained and maybe just a little hopeful for the future.