How To Keep An Alien | Rough MagicPhoto – Anthony Woods

During the 2014 Brisbane Festival I was given the opportunity to go along and see How To Keep An Alien from one of Ireland’s leading theatre companies, Rough Magic. For me, this was the theatrical highlight if this year’s festival.

Director Gina Moxley has invited us into a very honest, humorous and vulnerable work with a performer and stage manager who are sweet as they are (slightly) obsessive and passionate about everything they do.

Writer and performer Sonya Kelly shares with us the autobiographical sweet but rickety love story between her and ‘Kate from Queensland’. The meet and fall in love in Ireland – and are then thrown apart because of citizenship and bureaucracy.

From coffee receipts to photo evidence and letters of support from family and friends – the bureaucratisation of love isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, and Sonya must find a way to keep her sanity in check, her love in her heart, her patience in array and the paperwork in order if she is going to be able to ‘keep’ her alien from Queensland.   

Using a simple black box, the Rough Magic team transport us from County Offaly, to Brisbane, to Toowoomba (and a few other places in between) with their simple set (a table, a bookcase and a white screen) using the what-almost-seems-to-be-forgotten device of sweet and simple storytelling.

How To Keep An Alien is a mostly one-woman show, and Sonya Kelly, as the key performer is simply wonderful to watch on stage. She pulls you in with her strong, warm and slightly neurotic personality. At the end of the show I highly doubt you would have found one person in the audience who wouldn’t put up their hand to have a drink with actress (on stage or off).

I call it a mostly one-woman show because Justin Murphy has a (not-so-small) role as the stage manager and also shares the stage with Kelly. As well as being a brilliant stage manager (let’s all spend a brief moment appreciating that!), Justin added commentary and had his own performative moments. His support work was beautiful, and as my plus one for the night mentioned, he simply directed the work back to Sonya, and the fact that their relationship didn’t need to be explained further than stage manager and performer was just fine.

I’m so happy this work exists, and I do hope it has a long life. Although it quite clearly had an audience in Brisbane and Dublin (based on the geography of the story itself) the themes of immigration, love, loneliness, the rocky road of a relationship and the absurdity of the paperwork that can be involved with all three is something that many people across the globe can relate to.

I feel as though I’ve used the words ‘sweet’ and ‘beautiful’ a lot. But that’s what this story, this performer, this whole experience was. Beautiful, sweet and brave.

I do encourage every-one to go out, see this production, make up your own mind and tell others what you thought.  

Brisbane Festival and QUT present
Rough Magic's
by Sonya Kelly

Director Gina Moxley

Venue: The Loft, QUT (Theatre Republic) | Cnr Kelvin Grove Rd & Musk Ave, Kelvin Grove
Dates: 23 – 27 September, 2014                        
Tickets: $20 – $25

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