Sonya Kelly on taking ‘How to Keep an Alien’ on the road

Play tells her own story of falling in love with an Australian, and having to prove it to the government

I am in the passenger seat of my stage manager Justin's car, heading west to perform my show, How to Keep an Alien. The winter sun is dead ahead, sliding down the sky towards the pine trees. It floats on top of them, gently nudging the peaks like a gorgeous orange balloon and then drops away to hemispheres new.

When I shut my eyes, I can still see the amber against the red of my lids for a second or two. We are speeding through a herd of hairy-backed green hills that roll all the way to the Linen Hall Arts Centre in Castlebar. I have to admit I have been looking forward to doing the show in this venue. I’ve a joke in it about the Taoiseach.

In case you are wondering, How to Keep an Alien is not a play for UFO chasers who want to learn to capture extra terrestrials. No, it's my own true-life story about how I fell in love with an Australian called Kate and how we got her an Irish visa by proving our love to the Government. The paper trail of evidence for "the visa people" took us on a global odyssey from Co Offaly to the Queensland Bush. It's a tricky business coming from opposite ends of the earth.

It's hard to believe with tens of thousands of Irish people leaving for places like Australia every year, that there are a few from those countries who might actually want to come and live here. We may not have the sunshine, but as Kate says, "Ireland is beautiful because the people are beautiful". With killer lines like that, how could I not fall for her, write a play about it, and tour it to nearly every venue in the country? Who says love can't pay the rent?


Touring is hectic, so between the retina burn of the sun and the wobble of the car, it’s hard to write this article on my phone without becoming a bit motion sick. Still, I must persevere. This is a mammoth tour of over 30 venues, and there are also emails to be answered.

My tour manager has just sent through accommodation options for our London run in December. Five choices in all. I’m trying to draw my best conclusions from the décor in the thumnails, Google mapping each link to see how far they are from the Soho Theatre, then off-setting that against how nice the bathroom is.

Within minutes I am seized by the paralysis of choice. Dalston? I thought that was in Manchester. No, that’s Droylsden. Arsenal… London Fields? Fields? That doesn’t sound too close to anything. Sometimes I wish Google Earth was a big machine you could step into and bounce around from place to place to give it the old once over before you click your preference.

I have to remind myself that this is easy London. The team and I are only going over for a few weeks to a pre-organised job with lovely accommodation choices provided by the company. It’s not like we have to queue for hours in clinical offices for national insurance numbers, or spend our days pounding the pavement trying to get a foothold onto the Everest that is the London theatrical hierarchy.

Over the years, I have watched many colleagues pack their bags and head across to embark on the dizzy ascent. Some got stuck at basecamp, some got marooned on a plateau in the middle and some went so far up, Castlebar might as well be on another planet. Kate, a stage manager, spent some time in London and is quick to remind me, “It doesn’t matter how tough you are, sooner or later you’ll end up crying in a toilet.”

In my experience, there are two reasons friends stop contacting you after a year in a new city: They are doing really well and they are too busy to stay in touch, or they are not doing so well and they are not able to stay in touch. The gesture of the big move to follow your dreams and “make it”, as they say, can be very exposing: all those aunties and uncles and cousins watching and waiting for you to magically appear in the corner of their living rooms in their favourite soap. It’s Emmerdale or bust.

It forces me to think: “making it” is a highly subjective concept. Everyone’s idea of “the top” is different. Still, from where I am standing, performing in a show I wrote myself which is produced by Rough Magic and touring to the Soho Theatre in London, I feel I am at the top of a mountain, my mountain. And if I take out my binoculars and look far into the distance, not too far from Emmerdale, I can just about make out Castlebar.

Sonya Kelly is currently doing a national tour of How to Keep an Alien, A story about falling in love and proving it to the government. It will transfer to the Soho Theatre, London from 1-19th of December. For more information about tour dates see