>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 20 may 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: yms auditorium
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


A revival of any production immediately begets the question : Why? This is especially so in the case of Emily of Emerald Hill, a classic which has already seen more than forty different productions in Singapore and Malaysia - and is arguably the most performed play in both countries -in its relatively short 15-year existence.

Credit goes to the immensely rich and multi-layered script penned by award-winning dramatist Stella Kon; the life story of Nonya matriarch Emily Gan can be interpreted and reinterpreted again and again; Emily as feminist archetype, Emily as abandoned child, Emily as manipulative shrew or, indeed, as in this recent production, simply as a woman who loses too much as wife and mother.

>>'At times Chua lacked a certain presence that such a demanding monologue required'

Malaysian actress Pearlly Chua who has played the part of Emily some sixty over times since 1990, turned in a strong performance, remarkably capturing the emptiness and loneliness of Emily's life even while she is all sound and fury bossing the servants about in her home or at the market buying choice ingredients for her buah keluak chicken.

Having said that, the play only succeeds when the audience is drawn utterly into Emily's tragic yet inspiring story and at times, Chua lacked a certain presence that such a demanding monologue required. Particularly in the final scene in which Emily rambles incoherently, trying to affirm in her mind the wealth of a life that has known great loss and disillusionment, the audience finds itself strangely disengaged; it is as if Emily is simply too far away.

The situation was not helped by the layout of the YMS auditorium; the divide between stage and audience was too marked to create a truly intimate atmosphere. The other main character in the play is, of course, the Peranakan culture itself. Beyond the human drama of one woman's life, the play celebrates and explores deeply the rich and vibrant life of the Peranakan, capturing it with a powerful authenticity.

The script exists as an important historical document, bringing to life and preserving, as it does, all the different aspects of Baba culture -- from clothing to song, food to furniture. The play is revered as one of Singapore most-loved creations and it is easy to see why. Many elements are intrinsic parts of the Singapore identity -- the search for true self, the celebration of our heritage, the fighting spirit to overcome odds through sheer perseverance and the gritting of teeth.

When we celebrate Emily Gan's 15th birthday this season, in many ways, we are also celebrating the birthday of all our forefathers.