Donegal’s annual Earagail Arts Festival came to a close this weekend with music, creative writing and drama among its final, diverse billing – including the zany comedy ‘How To Keep An Alien’ at Holy Trinity Parish Hall in Dunfanaghy on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Written and performed by Sonya Kelly, ably assisted in a supporting role by stage manager and producer, Justin Murphy, who gives a fine rendition of ‘Bright Eyes,’ with Anthony Hanley as LX chief, this fast-moving, 70-minute show tells the story of Sonya’s personal odyssey from rural Offaly to the Queensland bush to obtain an Irish visa for her Australian partner, Kate.
Wearing thick glasses and natural expressions, both gleeful and perturbed in turn, Sonya quickly wins the audience’s support as she faces the hefty weight of bureaucracy – long reams of paper trailing across the stage floor being a dramatic indicator of the frustrating challenge before her.
An interesting parallel narrative introduced, recited in diary form, is about Kate’s Irish ancestors who suffered great hardship, including the loss of their 18-month old infant, during the reverse emigration voyage to Australia in the mid-1800s. The ghostly voice of one of these ancestors offers key encouragement to Sonya at a pivotal moment in the play when, morale sagging, she feels lost in more ways than one.
As well as being a fine actress, Sonya is also a skilled writer offering some delightful snippets such as her description of Irish weather where “sunshine is only a rumor” and the contrasting Australian version where “gentle breezes blow-torched my face,” as well as her reference to camping “as defeating the purpose of evolution.”
Her description of falling in love is touching, including a heartfelt letter written to Kate on the back of a sandwich bag and a line of passion that includes a reference to serotonin bath-salts.
She is also a pretty good dancer – more accurately, a pretty good one in illustrating a pretty bad one – as seen comically in opening scenes when, as a cast member on a Russian play in a castle outside Dublin, she performs pirouettes haphazardly, much to the chagrin of the director. It’s then she realizes how little interest she has in doing what she’s doing, that she might as well be “putting toppings on pizzas.”
In effect, ‘How To Keep An Alien’ is a tender, autobiographical tale about how “a fling” with an Aussie, evolves into “a cling” and then finally into “a ring.”
The show is produced by Rough Magic in association with Soho Theatre (London), and will feature 28 July-3 August at the West Cork Fit-up Festival then August 6 to 30 at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Fringe.