|Emily at Concorde
(From Her World November 95)
Think of dinner theatre and you immediately think of the light-hearted West End plays which form the staple of the dinner theatres here. It was welcome relief to watch a dinner theatre performance where not only was the food excellent, the play that was performed is the local classic, Emily of Emerald Hill.
Stella Kon's play has become a cult classic, and in recent years actress Pearlly Chua has made the role her own under the direction of Chin San Sooi.
People have said that Chin "has flogged the play to death". But after watching it, I have to disagree. The play is as powerful and fresh today as when it was performed more than 10 years ago. One of the audience who has seen Pearlly play the role a few times said that she was getting better with each performance.
On that particular night she was just superb. The scene where she receives news of the death of her son was truly touching. The standing ovation at the end of the play was heartfelt response to her spirited performance.
Doesn't she get tired of playing the same character all the time? "No, because Stella Kon has written the play so well that there are facets to Emily's character that I am discovering each time I play the part," said Pearlly after the performance. "Every time I read the script, I discover new ways of saying the lines. I've been playing the role of Emily for the past five years and yet I cannot say that I know the character like the back of my palm."
When asked for the reason for the play's longstanding appeal, San Sooi said that a lot of it had to do with the character and the cultural background to it.
"Emily is a universal character. She belonged to a culture which reduced women to being very subservient; and she had to fight against it. From a cultural context, it shows a way of life which is disappearing very fast; and the play captures the nuances of that culture very well.
He added that when the play was performed in Penang, a member of the audience later told him that it was remarkable that in so short a period of time the play successfully shows what the Peranakan culture is all about.
Kudos to the Five Arts Centre and Concorde Hotel for introducing this local gem to the dinner theatre circuit.
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