Our special Guest blogger Mr. Hong Wee contributed the following review , Enjoy !
The Many Splendours of Emerald Hill
Emily of Emerald Hill is like the Botanic Gardens – you’ve heard of it, you’ve heard it’s good, but you’ve never been there yourself. First staged in 1984, played by no less than 4 different actresses and 1 actor, to audiences in KL, Singapore, London, Hawaii, … It was the play that launched Wild Rice Productions – from the proceeds that Ivan Heng collected from his first but very successful run as Emily.
Just like the Botanicals, Emily is a rich bouquet. It is about family, tradition, possession and obsession, love and desertion. Each of us takes away a specific memory, a reflection perhaps more of ourselves and the lens with which we view our prevalent circumstances. My wife, for example, resonated with Emily’s need for control over household matters – “Ah Hoon, puan and the kids’ clothes must be thoroughly starched. My blouse though, must be only light starched, and only at the edges”. She (my wife) also admitted to being teary-eyed at our son’s (kindergarten!!) graduation, just like Emily’s emotional farewell to Richard’s departure for university in London.
For me, the heart wrencher came mid-way in the second act; Emily, all of 10 years old, had just lost her father and her mother was packing up to leave the family. It suddenly dawned upon her that Mother did not intend to take her along. “Please take me with you,” Emily pleaded, getting down on her knees. “Please please please please please PLEASE!!” Heng’s cries, fear-soaked and incoherent, screamed desparation and desolation. Not a single exhaled breath in the audience. Quite brilliant script, Ms Kon, quite exquisite, Mr Heng.
This W!ld Rice Production re-drew the traditional boundary between stage and audience. A part of the budget went into extending the stage into the audience space – yes, the front row was in the splash zone. Heng’s Emily invited the audience (quite literally) into her world; at one point, Emily was singing Happy Birthday at Richard’s 20th birthday party, when she realised that the audience wasn’t singing along. “Come on people, you can decide whether you are part of the party, or not. What is it going to be?” In another instance, she admonished her ‘servants’, who unfortunately happened to be sitting on the front row when she walked on stage. It was funny and the ‘servants’ took it all in good humour, but it was perhaps bordering on being antic-ish for an old dog like myself. It did distract one from the gravity of the storyline and somewhat at odds to the persona of a matriarch.
Apart from that, what’s not to love about the production? Within the plot, Heng brought an edgy feel to the production. His rendition of fake-colonial accent was sublime, and his machine-gun rattle of how to cook Buah Keluak impeccable. One can almost see the pork meat boiled off the bones, feel the belachan triggering the salivary glands, and taste the gravy poured over steamed white rice. Margaret Chan possible was the regal Emily, but Heng made her more personable and accessible. It’s a shame Ms Chan has taken her last bow as Emily – it would have been an interesing contrast.
Many have argued Emily to be Singapore’s representative theatrical production. Indeed, as the one evening where the sarong kebaya is de rigeur, it is probably more palatable than Kuo Pao Kun’s ‘The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole’. I loved the way Emily sashayed into the play and out of it, the evocation of olfactory and aural senses, the sympathy for a young girl fighting for survival, and the empathy with a mother who drove her son to suicide and her daughter who opted for marriage as an escape. All in all, a good evening out. It is like visiting the Botanic Gardens – so many things to see, smell, hear, touch. And if you have not visited the Botanic Gardens all these 27 years, it’s high time you did.
– Hong Wee