Standoff over chair led to Sonya’s latest play

Playwright Sonya Kelly.
Playwright Sonya Kelly.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

A chance encounter with a snooty curator at the Irish Embassy in Paris was the spark that ignited Furniture, Sonya Kelly’s new play, which will debut at Druid Theatre during this year’s Galway International Arts Festival.

Dubliner Sonya, whose previous plays include The Wheelchair on My Face and How to Keep an Alien, had been awarded a residency at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris to focus on writing a new play.  Those works, funny and insightful, had been based on her own experiences and had garnered awards at Edinburgh and Dublin’s Fringe Festivals. But she wanted more.

“I decided if I wanted to take this life as a writer seriously, I had to do something different,” she explains as we sit, appropriately enough, at the table in Druid’s boardroom.

Sonya applied for the residency in Paris “to work on dialogue”, and during her stay there, she was invited to an event in the Irish Embassy, a fundraiser for the South of France home that had belonged to furniture designer, Eileen Gray. At the reception, she noticed a chair, designed by Gray and leaned in to get a better look at it.

Suddenly, someone appeared and said ‘don’t touch it!’. Sonya was taken aback. “I said, ‘I wasn’t going to going to touch it’. The person responded; ‘well, don’t! to which Sonya retorted ‘I wasn’t going to’.

“Suddenly we had a situation,” she recalls with glee and I said to myself, ‘I’ve just got it!’ and ran down the Champs Élysées.”

Back in the Cultural Centre, Sony set to work and the result is Furniture, which featured as a Druid Debut in 2017 and was then chosen for a full production.

The notion of furniture and household items had long intrigued her; the way we get attached to things and “negotiate to get stuff off each other. Once negotiation begins, it’s interesting for an audience”.

Her initial interest in furniture had been sparked following the death of a relative. After the will was read out, belongings which had been such a fixture in the woman’s house, were dispersed.

The opening scene of the play involves a couple at an event where one tells the other how to behave “and it opens up a Pandora’s Box of all that’s ever happened between them”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.