Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Emily of Emerald Hill: Fund-raiser for Ooi Eow Jin

On February 11, 2018, I was at The Play Haus, a performance art theatre in Pearl Shopping Gallery in Jalan Kelang Lama, Kuala Lumpur to watch Emily of Emerald Hill. And I was fortunate to be given a seat in the second row at the front. 

This monologue play is immensely popular and it has been staged since 1984 – and I only caught it this time around. 

Emily of Emerald Hill is a nostalgic re-enactment of the glorious days of the Peranakan (Straits-born) Chinese in Singapore. The commonsense portrayal of the protagonist Emily in a multiplicity of roles, starting as a daughter to becoming a daughter-in-law, wife, mother and matriarch presents us with a tapestry of multi-layered perspectives of a lavish Baba-Nyonya lifestyle underpinned by wealth and status. 

There is nothing kitsch about this play – instead, it exudes rich intentions, authentic realism and charming elegance. 

And the formidable Pearlly Chua stylishly performed with put-on panache – and bringing me back to the good old days that I could only read about but would never experience.

I will readily admit that the 100-minute production gave me a concise yet compelling insight into a vanishing Peranakan culture and a slice of the history of Singapore (which is not unlike Malaysia).

It was a narrative that I could easily relate to and I am sure, with many others too. More so, since I am a Peranakan. 

A sparse setting. A down-to-earth script. A single character. And uncomplicated circumstances  these were all completely recognizable. 

A fascinating story because it tells of a feisty woman fighting for acceptance and at the same time, securing her position as the ‘first lady’ in a stifling environment that overflows with social norms and patriarchy. She has to pay a heavy price too – having had to grapple with her eldest son’s suicide and her estrangement from her husband. 

After so many performances – the show still stayed true and portrayed just as lovingly. Pearlly Chua was eloquent, expressive and evocative. A remarkable actor – this was her 201st performance, I’m told. 

Emily of Emerald Hill was written by award-winning Singaporean playwright Stella Kon and directed by world renowned Malaysian director Chin San Sooi. 

I actually asked Chin if Chua was ever tired of reprising her role as Emily Gan umpteenth times – and he responded that he knew the latter did not feel that way. Passion drove her and it still does. 

As the drama unfolded, I was gripped to my seat. I was immersed into the storyline straightaway. I was engaged, engrossed, enthralled. 

Thank you for the play that celebrates the strength and stamina of the human spirit allowing it to survive, succeed, and still stay relevant in an ever-changing world. 

Congratulations to everybody for bringing back this show. And for a worthy cause too!

This was Chin’s fund-raising initiative to raise funds for retired composer and songwriter Ooi Eow Jin (pic below). 

Image credit: Webpage https//

Ooi – who collaborated with entertainers such as P Ramlee and Sudirman Arshad in a career that spanned four decades – has been stricken with Alzheimer's disease since 2015.

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