Tiger Dublin Fringe Review: How to Keep an Alien

Sonya Kelly's 'How to Keep an Alien' runs in the Project Arts Centre until

Sonya Kelly’s ‘How to Keep an Alien’ runs in the Project Arts Centre until September 13.

Frances Winston checks out Rough Magic’s production about Sonya Kelly’s fight to keep her Australian partner in Ireland

The Cube @ Project Arts Centre, 39 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
4-13 September at 8.30pm. Tickets: €15/13

If the title of this leads you to expect a sci-fi epic, you will be sorely disappointed, as although ET gets a mention, there is actually no extra terrestrial life in this show. If, however, you want a wry look at the complications of trying to obtain a visa for a foreign partner, deemed an illegal alien by the government, then you have come to the right place.

Written by, and starring, Sonya Kelly, whose last show was the Wheelchair on My Face, this takes the audience on a journey through her relationship with her Australian girlfriend, Kate. The pair met while working on a play in an Irish castle, but just as their relationship gathered momentum, Kate’s visa expired, and what followed was months and months of bureaucracy, paperwork, frustrations, Skyping and relationship realisations, as they attempted to compile all the information needed to apply for a De Facto visa for Kate.

As they try to prove to the government that they are indeed a real couple, they are forced to overcome obstacles that would strain even the strongest of relationships, and their story really is a testament to the lengths people will go to for love.

Kelly presents the story passionately, and manages to find humour in even the most traumatic moments of the process. With help from her stage manager, Julian, she recalls each and every moment, from the first time their eyes meet, to periods of separation, meeting the relations and the complexities of dealing with immigration officials.

Underscoring the tale is the story of Kate’s great-grandmother, who emigrated to Australia having been evicted from her home in Ireland, providing yet another link between Kate and the Emerald Isle.

The staging is simple – predominately a lot of shelving and lamps – and every inch of it is used to great effect. Popular music is dotted throughout, and stage manager Julian performs a truly special rendition of Bright Eyes in the middle of the show. Kelly’s vibrancy and energy never waiver, and her honesty, as she explains the ins and out of her relationship, is refreshing. Her script is snappy and engaging, and multimedia is used sparingly but effectively to enhance the story.

The fact that they are a same-sex couple is never used as an excuse, or an issue for their situation. They are simply a couple who want to be together. Kelly avoids the temptation to use this as a platform for LGBTQ rights, and instead focuses on the fact they went through a lot to be together, just like many other couples do. This makes the work immediately more accessible, as it is a relationship story rather than a political commentary.

You really feel like you are being given a glimpse of a very private world throughout, and the intimacy of The Cube only adds to this. On the night I attended, there was a well deserved and genuine standing ovation, and the audience was completely engaged and laughing throughout the show. Kelly is an excellent storyteller, and you leave feeling uplifted, and with your faith in love restored. Many times throughout the show, she talks about making a gesture of permanence to Kate, and this is probably the grandest gesture of permanence she could have given her. Truly affecting, warm and witty, this is one of the best new works I have seen in a long time.

About Scott De Buitléir

Scott De Buitléir is an author and poet from Dublin, Ireland. He is founder of EILE Magazine, a digital publication for the Irish LGBT community, and has published several works of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. He lives in Cork with his partner.
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