Emily of Emerald Hill is a title I’d heard of time and time again ever since I started going to watch plays and such. I finally got to see it – and I quite liked it!
The titular character, Emily Gan, is the matriarch of a nonya family that lives in Emerald Hill (apparently a real place in Singapore). This monologue takes the audience through Emily’s life – in non-linear fashion (rather like some of those indie movies I watched recently) – and we get to see Emily as a little girl, a young bride to a man twice her age, as a daughter-in-law, as a mother, as a wife, and then as the aging matriarch.
Monologues are probably not the most fascinating sort of stage show, and if I was to be honest, I can’t imagine myself going to see monologues as often as I would see musicals or stage plays. But actress Pearlly Chua (in her 200th performance as Emily) managed to command attention and interest throughout the monologue. Emily was not a very likeable character – she had her faults, but she did learn from them! – but Pearlly made Emily very relatable. Her portrayal of the character at different points in her life was excellent. You could almost believe that she really was a little girl one moment, and then an old lady the next.
Playwright Stella Kon wrote the character very well too. The narrative is striking and reminds me strongly of some of Catherine Lim’s short stories. It’s all fictional, but the scenarios Emily goes through are those that many Malaysians and Singaporeans can relate to on some level – the struggle to make a place for herself in a new family amongst sisters-in-law who dislike her, the desire of a parent for the success of her children (a desire that gets carried too far in some cases), the favouritism shown to one child, the many duties of a housewife, the trials of having a straying husband…
The only negative thing I can find to say about it was that the very last part, when Emily starts going senile, dragged on a bit too long. It started to feel dreary after a minute or so. I felt that it didn’t need to go on for as long as it did, but perhaps that was the point? To draw out the scene and to emphasise the melancholy sadness and her death (presumably).
(I rather think Emily of Emerald Hill ought to be included in the English lit sections for secondary school. It would be a pretty interesting study of character through dialogue. Could also be useful for history – that is, if history was ever about the interesting cultural and societal stuff instead of all the dull politics and dates.)
Emily isn’t something I would recommend for people who aren’t used to watching plays, but to the ones who are I would say: go see it if it’s ever staged near you!