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Emily of Emerald Hill

June 12, 2010
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This would be my 2nd time watching this, the first being the open rehearsal last week. And this time, I took more effort in analysing the play. I was more reserved in making any judgement previously as:
1) it was a rehearsal, and
2) I didn’t want that to influence my (or any others’) viewing of the actual performance.

And this time, the whole setup and overall experience was better than the other day.

One question came to mind immediately – would “Emily” be such a success if it weren’t for the excellent performance of the actress? Maybe also the theatre scene 25 years back was different and such a focus on heritage rare, which still is few. A monologue was also pretty uncommon.

Margaret Chan put up a splendid performance tonight. It’s really a rather difficult role to play, trying to keep the audience ‘engrossed’ with a full-length “narrative biographical monologue”. That sounds boring enough if it’s not done well. The player needs to be able to have good storytelling skills (not just acting) and at the same time be in character, making it ‘real’. You must understand that most of the story is supposedly happening in Emily’s mind and that the audience (and actress) will need a lot of imagination to grasp the going-ons and other characters in the plot, not to mention lots of time shifting as she reminiscences. As Margaret mentioned before, there’s a need to use different nuances and changes in tones and pitch in voice, body language, and I must add, the ability to bring out the humour in some of the lines that would fall flat if not carried out well.

However, I preferred some of the intensity she displayed during the rehearsal (that particular session was somewhat the “breakthrough” session) where she really “became” Emily at certain points. E.g. the ending part of the 1st segment, I was moved during the rehearsal and she cried then too. And also the ending when she was old and mumbling of past scenes, especially when she called Richard. The sense of loneliness and regret/heartbreak was stronger.

Now I come to the storyline. I didn’t talk much of the story previously as I didn’t focus on that (or wanted to reveal so much). The first half was about her relationship with her first son, Richard. They were very close but then again, there could be a love-hate relationship as she “controlled” him too much, leading to his suicide.
The second half was the relationship with her husband. I believe it got worse due to Richard’s passing? But he was already having an affair then. Maybe he was also trying to break free from her matriarchal ways and hated her for that.
Emily was an intelligent girl and knew how to strategise. She grew up fending for herself and more so when she got married, learning to survive such that she rose up to head the whole family, trying to be the good wife and mother as she knows it. She rounds off addressing these two relationships. I guess this somehow frames the show, separating and emphasizing the two roles Emily plays in her life.

The post-show dialogue was a short lesson in theatre studies, just like the rehearsal. Margaret had gave a lengthier answer for the common “how different” (I was more curious on whether she brought new elements into her performance) during the rehearsal compared to tonight, and basically, it’s the depth and maturity that’s come into her portrayal. It’s really important how society affects theatre and I liked the discussion about how a play becomes classical. It’s true people get caught up with “how it was” while everything changes so fast in the surrounding. And Margaret pointed out 1 important point. Space is now literally non-existent; there’s no concept of time or space, coz everything is so instantaneous and all leap over the space in the current world. You can say we are more networked, but I think the reverse if you think of it. There’s no depth.
Theatre studies, how interesting it would be!

This pretty much rounds up my Arts Fest 2010 experience. I wonder how Ivan Heng’s performance will be like. It should be a more comic take?

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