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Sonya Kelly

How to Keep an Alien – Soho Theatre, London

Writer: Sonya Kelly
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Love is all you need so we’re told and romantic novels are filled with relationships with exotic strangers. But as it turns out, if you want to hold on to that exotic stranger then what you actually need isn’t love but an enormous folder filled with evidence, photographs and supporting statements that ‘prove’ you are a couple and deserve a visa.

Sonya Kelly trawls her real life experience to tell a story so ridiculous it has to be true about meeting, falling in love and trying to ‘keep an alien’. That alien is Kate, an Australian who Sonya meets while she’s acting in a Russian drama ‘with English accents’ near Dublin and through a series of hilarious anecdotes what was a holiday romance becomes a serious relationship. They fall for each by play-acting elaborate suicides much to the disapproval of the play’s choreographer – “just because you put “ographer” at the end of your job doesn’t make it important” – and even when Kate’s visa expires and she returns to Australia the couple realise they’re meant for each other.

Now in a Richard Curtis film that would be the happy ending, but sadly ‘life is not a movie, it’s an underestimated gas bill’ and what follows is a vividly comic tour of the complex immigration system and the effect is has on a fairly new relationship. As Kate, voiced by Sonya in a deliberately thickened Aussie accent, and Sonya bicker over bureaucracy their relationship becomes almost entirely about gathering evidence rather than just enjoying being together, and a large ring-binder stuffed with papers is the centrepiece of the show.

The bubble well and truly bursts as Sonya realises after several months together she still doesn’t know the name of Kate’s family members which leads neatly to a trip to Australian where in a few short weeks she meets over 50 of them and endures a night of camping in the outback. The whole piece is cleverly written so the audience is carried from scenario to scenario with ease, as the story becomes increasingly outrageous and cumbersome. At times, the language almost becomes verse-like as Kelly loads her text with similes and comic asides, balancing the laughter with some very heart-felt moments.

In some ways what makes this so charming is a very recognisable style of Irish and British bureaucracy which in some capacity, be it a lost letter or experience of any kind of ‘service’ desk queuing system, everyone has experienced and hated, so finding humour in these places is something we’re all very familiar with. Kelly’s easy manner and tone of casually confiding in the audience is extremely engaging especially in what is a reasonably honest, albeit funny, depiction of the highs and lows of a relationship under strain and throughout you’re willing her story to succeed.

Additional support, characters and a rendition of Bright Eyes are provided by stage manager Justin who should share the credit for a surprising and thoroughly entertaining show about paperwork.

Runs until 19 December 2015 | Image: Contributed

Writer: Sonya Kelly Reviewer: Maryam Philpott Love is all you need so we’re told and romantic novels are filled with relationships with exotic strangers. But as it turns out, if you want to hold on to that exotic stranger then what you actually need isn’t love but an enormous folder filled with evidence, photographs and supporting statements that ‘prove’ you are a couple and deserve a visa. Sonya Kelly trawls her real life experience to tell a story so ridiculous it has to be true about meeting, falling in love and trying to ‘keep an alien’. That alien is Kate,…

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