Sonya Kelly: On My Culture Radar

Playwright Sonya Kelly on her hero Tig Notaro and French series Call My Agent


Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir of a girl who never went to school and was raised by family preoccupied with preparing for the apocalypse. Unable to read and totally innocent of the world's most monumental events, like the Holocaust, we follow her as she discovers education and thus discovers herself and freedom. Some of the accounts are so incredible, and beautifully written, it's hard to believe you are not reading fiction. I couldn't put it down.


I brought my wife to Forest Avenue in Dublin for our first wedding anniversary, which was excellent. We had a six-course tasting menu and we were still married at the end of it, so that’s a win. I always thought tasting menus were like having a load of hors d’oeuvres while you’re sitting down, but I loved it. In fact, I see similarities between food and theatre: you need good raw ingredients, be willing to take risks and have great communication with your technical team. Something exciting has to happen every 15 minutes that leads up to or out of a dramatic midpoint. The pressure is immense.


Tig Notaro is one of my heroes. She’s so intelligent, insightful and empathic. I had the privilege of seeing her live at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in LA a few years ago. It was a new material night, $10 in. I didn’t even know she was on, but out she walks with Sarah Silverman. They did half an hour of new stuff each. When Sarah was on, Tig came into the audience and sat beside me, taking notes. For weeks I thought I’d dreamed it.


Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill is a sublime dystopian play about an environmental apocalypse, spliced with monologues about being frightened of cats and another where a woman just utters the words "terrible rage" with greater intensity for three minutes, all set in a suburban backyard of a summer's evening. I saw it in London at the Royal Court and can't wait until someone does it here.



Francis O’Connor, the set designer for Furniture. You give him your script on a flat wad of paper, and he returns you a three-dimensional world of possibilities where armchairs are reflections, dining room tables come out of walls and a pair of window shutters that turn into ... I can’t tell you, but there is a collective intake of breath. Just come and see.


Melbourne. It’s a grid, it’s got trams. Great theatre. The Great Ocean Road. Great big outdoor 50m pools. Definable seasons. And the food is magic: come for the Italian, stay for the dumplings and don’t leave without having fish and chips by the sea. The seagulls are much smaller and less aggressive due to the buoyant economy.


In Ireland? All of them, for being actors. The knock-on effects from systemic cutbacks lands largely with them. Most of them have to earn their living from other means. Sadly, people don’t see it as a real job. When I was a theatre actor, I was often asked, “and what do you do during the day?” I would always reply, “My laundry”.


Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross. I recommend the episode where she interviews Adam Cohen, son of the late Leonard Cohen. It all goes very, very wrong. Perhaps he wanted to have more purchase on how the conversation would flow, I don't know. Whatever happened, he takes umbrage with her line of questions, which results in a bitingly tense exchange between them. Terry handles it brilliantly. I never thought you could literally hear a person not bat an eyelid, but she manages it somehow.

TV show

I'm glued to Call My Agent – if not for the excuse to excavate my Leaving Cert French, then for the fabulously inaccurate portrayals of how an actor's agency operates. And for Camille Cottin, who is the total boss of acting. The show's main location is a short walk from the Centre Culturel Irlandais, where I wrote the first draft of Furniture on a residency, so every once in a while I get to shout, 'I had falafel there!'

Sonya Kelly's Furniture tours nationwide starting March 20th. Check for full details