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Theatre Review: How Sonya overcame obstacles to love


UNFLAGGINGLY HILARIOUS: The real charm and magic of Sonya Kelly’s ‘How to Keep an Alien’ lies in its honesty

UNFLAGGINGLY HILARIOUS: The real charm and magic of Sonya Kelly’s ‘How to Keep an Alien’ lies in its honesty

UNFLAGGINGLY HILARIOUS: The real charm and magic of Sonya Kelly’s ‘How to Keep an Alien’ lies in its honesty

Sonya Kelly is in love; and she never wanted to be. It started out as a two week fling when she met an  Australian woman called Kate (from Queensland) when they were both working on a Russian play in a castle outside Dublin. Kate’s visa was about to run out, so the fling was to have a natural end.  Except, as Robert Burns said, the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley. Which was fairly apt, because Kate fell for Sonya heavily in return, and on receipt of a longing letter (written on a sandwich wrapper) took herself back from Queensland to bonnie Scotland on a visitor’s visa. Well, the journey time between Dublin and Glasgow is rather shorter than that between Dublin and Queensland.

How to Keep an Alien is Sonya Kelly’s (almost) one-woman hilarious take on the womens’ struggles to overcome the obstacles in love’s way. She is accompanied by her stage manager Justin Murphy, who joins her on stage  as an occasional prompt and feed, and even sings a cool love-song along the way. (Well, in this context, Bright Eyes does become the sweetest of love songs, which takes some doing!)

Kelly’s wit is unflaggingly hilarious as she describes the couple’s struggles with the vicissitudes in the way of not-so-young love, from the bureaucracy of the Irish immigration service through the fear of commitment  to Sonya’s terror at meeting Kate’s long-tailed family on a trip to Australia.

But the real charm and magic of the piece lies in its honesty. Kelly doesn’t flinch from portraying the doubts, the rows, the insecurities, and the sheer slogging labour of  working through seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. There’s even the terror as she sits in Dublin, snowed under with visa requirements only to have the cold hand of fear clutch her besotted heart as Kate announces on Skype that she’s about to go out on tour with a theatre company… and is going to a production party that night, what’s more.

How to Keep an Alien is the funniest, most touching of love stories, its open-heartedness a rarity in this cynical age. It’s a Rough Magic production at Project, directed by Kelly’s longtime collaborator Gina Moxley, and the professional empathy and oneness of approach between the two is almost palpable.

It’s designed and lit by Sarah Jane Shiels, with sound by Carl Kennedy, and if everything in the Tiger Fringe comes even close to it for sheer delight and professionalism, it’s going to be one corker of a Fringe Festival.

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The company which calls itself The Company has done this before: they explored attitudes towards theatre and how it is made two years ago in a physical piece called As You Are Now So Once Were We. Now, in a piece called The Rest Is Action, they predicate the Greek tragedy of The Oresteia on nothingness. All that happens in that play, after all, they posit, is that Clytemnestra is killed. The motivations (her husband’s sacrificing of their daughter Iphigenia  to the goddess of war in order to gain a fair wind to sail for the Trojan war) happens offstage and prior to the action.

And the cast, Brian Bennett, Rob McDermott and Nyree Yergainharsian, explore how motivation is developed from the  inwardness of character set against the need to detach from the process  of presenting it on stage. Put like that it sounds rather arid, and indeed it is. But there is an un-smartarse cleverness in this examination of process that  is both interesting and stimulating even if it lacks “entertainment value.”

And it is almost surgical in throwing the essence of what we call great tragedy in the audience’s face with a kind of contempt  for the ease with which the actor can create illusion.

Probably the most entertaining sequence is the opening, when  the trio perform  an extremely funny send-up of the meaninglessness of “cool” conversation with its obsessive fear of even momentary silence. But accomplished though it all is, perhaps it is time for The Company to move on to something a little less theatrically introspective.

It’s one of the opening productions of the Tiger Fringe Festival, directed by Jose Miguel Jiminez, designed by Stephen Dodd (with wonderful video design by Mick Cullinan) and it’s at Project.

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I don’t know if Steven Berkoff’s mother is alive and is one of his fans. But if she sat in the first row of his “play” The Actor’s Lament on opening night she would have had ample opportunity for the doting mother’s comment “They’re all out of step except my Stevie.”

Critics, (especially critics), writers, directors, agents, even stage doormen: all are out of step, villified in seventy minutes of drivelling invective which would seem excessive in one of those pathetic aged actors who call people “Laddie” and never made it beyond the second juvenile in provincial rep. From someone who claims  to be possessed of the divine fire, it makes even the most gullible audience start wondering about the loudness of the protest.

Critics are “toe-rags and slobs” and “Oxbridge drop-outs.” Where writers are concerned, they are nothing: the actor “regurgitates (your) shit.”

As for  the directors, “no matter how the actor slaves” he cannot seem to get a part when up against those from “the grubby fame of film and TV”. People in glass-houses, Stevie boy. There must be quite a high percentage of the audience for The Actor’s Lament who have turned up merely because  he has been seen on the big screen.

And as for the commercial theatre, Mr. Berkoff rages against the West End and “yet another Chekov or ‘The Importance’.” Yeah, let’s consign the lot to the dustbin in favour of masterpieces like The Actor’s Lament.

It’s all pretty dreary and self-indulgent, and the production values can only be described as cheap-skate.

It was at the Gaiety in Dublin, and the acting (Jay Benedict and Andree Bernard as well as Berkoff) was adequate, no more.

Online Editors