Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 12:47 AM

Title: Emily of Emerald Hill
Type: Monologue Play
Genre: Drama
Year: April 2014
Length: 3 hours
Scriptwriter: Stella Kon
Association with: Chin San Sooi
Main Cast: Pearlly Chua

The splendour of the life of a rich Chinese family in Singapore during the British colonial days was appropriately portrayed

MILY is an epitome Nyonya lady that underwent all traditional male chauvinistic life during the 1950's. It was set in Singapore. Her character is profound that one can only relate to the lives of their grandmothers over half century ago particularly for the Peranakan stock. The creator, Stella, had magnificently wrote the play that not only achieve the highest level of performing art capability but also relate back to reality. A reality of life that everyone can compare to, for which, most of the sentiments that are apparent in those years, still exist today (in somewhat different perspectives). Whilst predominantly in English, the intertwining of Malay made it a lot more genuine and honest in its delivery. The splendour of the life of a rich Chinese family in Singapore during the British colonial days was appropriately portrayed by the use of elaborate antique oriental furniture in the virtual mansion of Emerald Hill, the richness of cultural touch in batik and kebayas as well as the composition of the household dignified by servants and butlers.

This is a monologue play. I was not so sure (initially) what it meant although literally I did suspect it is a one-man show,.... well, one-woman show. It is! It is a one-woman show. I had a somewhat awkward expectation anticipating what one single woman can do to entertain me for 3 hours (Don't be cheeky you bastards out there!). After all, she is not a stand up comedian. At first it was quite difficult to absorb as it appeared like a mad woman talking to herself in a Tanjung Rambutan ward. Gradually, the skillful acting by Pearlly Chua simply u-turned it into a fantastic performance. The agility of her acting covers a wide range of roles, namely, Emily the Young Girl, Emily the Middle Aged Women, Emily the Mistress of a Household and Emily the Melancholic Madame. The adaptation of the voice intonation (especially in singing) was superb looping from one age to another projecting the accuracy of how one (Emily) would progress in character building, courage and sufferings.

Her life was simply a journey of one sad chapter into another repeatedly until all courage is sucked out dry.

Emily is a story that represents many lives of Nyonyas back then. Being orphaned by a dead father, her mother abandoned her. She lived like an unwanted parasite moving from one relative to another until it was decided that she was to be married to a man twice her age. That sadness never really went away. Her life was simply a journey of one sad chapter into another repeatedly until all courage is sucked out dry. Anything bad that could happen, happened. A husband that neglects her and keeps sophisticated women as mistresses. A household full of in-laws who bullies a 14 year old girl that got married into it. Death of her first born and husband. Abandoned by her children. Such agonies were so unbearable that the script included her screaming, "What bad have I done to deserve all these mishappenings",.... something along that line. As you would imagine, the crying and sobbing parts were believeable. It was as if Pearlly cried for real feeling what Emily is feeling. After all, the story is based on a true story of the life of a Mrs Seow Poh Leng.
In every element in life God created its balancing act. Indeed He is merciful. Emily was not deprived of such balance. She looks for happiness and she did find happiness, in the mists of the surrounding grey saga. In the dark blue night sky, if you wait for the clouds to clear, the pale moonlight do shine. She takes joy in bringing up her children from babies, educating them in England and looking after her granndchildren. She takes pride managing the servants, maintaining the mansion and hosting parties upholding the dignity of the family. Keeping friends close and helping those in need was one of her virtues. From time to time she flashes back to her younger days reminiscing the troubles she endured as well as the joy of life she cherished. It is a story of many women, even the current days women - except that the surroundings and the materiality aspects are different. If there is one epitome message Emily of Emerald Hill can or should radiate, it would be the strength to gather courage and to continue the journey with hope in mind and faith at heart.
The show is still on at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) until the end of April 2014, I think. Better catch it while they are still showing. I was told that they have played this over 200 times since 15 years ago. And guess what? it was Pearlly all these years who acted as Emily. Simply a must see and you'd be surprise how a genre you thought may not be to your liking enlightens you with delightful experience. Go experience it!

If there is one epitome message Emily of Emerald Hill can or should radiate, it would be the strength to gather courage and to continue the journey with hope in mind and faith at heart.


Friday, April 4, 2014 at 11:24 PM

Music was no longer driven by energy alone. It had various elements that require intellectual intervention. Everything had to be synergised like pieces of puzzles - chord arrangements, melody, genre, beat, lyrics, types of instrument and the most epitome ingredient, the "feel"

USIC has always been a significant part of my life. Not because I grew up with music, but because I made a conscious effort to have interest in it. I grew up in a typical conventional traditional Malay family where the ultimate focus was being put on education and religion. Music was never part of that. It was all about tuitions for the core subjects like maths, English and the like. Music class was unknown in my family. I wanted to become a fine artist but responsibly pursuaded otherwise by my father. I became an Accountant instead. Having said that, where did the opportunity to love music came from? My father do listen to music but it was not fresh enough for the liking of a kid like me (back then). We are talking about names such as Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole alongside the local counterparts such as Ahmad Nawab, Syed Agil and of course, who cannot resist, P. Ramlee (Tan Sri). The radio scene was also quite limited to Zainal Din Zainal or Nuramin from Radio Malaysia Ibu Kota (popularly known as RMIK).
So what had opened my eyes (or rather my ears)? It was a few names as listened from cassettes bought by my father - Alleycats (Kerana), Kembara (Duit-Duit) and Sudirman (Chow Kit Road). This showcased music as a point of interest to me. The point where I begin to request my father to buy more cassettes of those artists. On the foreign influence side, Michael Jackson was at that time winning all trophies possible via Billy Jean, Beat It and of course, Thriller. The first foreign cassette I'd ever listened to was the compilation of 1984 Grammy Award winners simply because Michael Jackson was on it. This exposed me to more good tunes such as Uptown Girl (Billy Joel), Telephone (Sheena Easton), All Night Long (Lionel Ritchie) and many more. But soon, foreign influence (on me) depleted as the popularity in school (primary) was heavily fuelled by Search (Rozana), Lefthanded (Tiada Lagi Kidungmu) and a few more Malay Rock'n'Roll bands.

Secondary school was a bigger pool of musical experience. We were having super bands from both local and foreign scenes assimilating into our hungry sponge for entertainment. Search (Fenomena album) continued being the No.1 band in Malaysia and Wings (Hukum Karma album) rouse up to be of equal strength to Search. The guru behind Kembara (whom I was listening to initially) now decided to expose himself as M. Nasir storming Malaysia with his solo album featuring Mustika. On the English path, along came Guns'n'Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Manowar, U2, Helloween, Sepultura, Nirvana and many more. During that time I begin to learn how to play the guitar. That opened the gate to a new realm of music, the instrumentalists such as Yngwie Johann Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. As you can see, my musical inclination moved away from the Pop genre that Grammy Awards was dominated by, to Rock'n'Roll and Heavy Metal.

By the time I left for Australia for my tertiary studies, I had made a myopic decision to only accept "Rock" as my preferred genre and closed the doors to any other genre. Being a rocker was cool and that accepting other genre was pathetic, or at least, that was what I was thinking. Metallica became my favourite band and I begin to do a retrospective journey tracking the roots of "Rock". From contemporary (at that time) Heavy Metal bands like Metallica, I managed to trace musical influences to the grandfathers of Heavy Metal, namely Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. These bands had strong blues influence. That led to the discovery of a softer "Rock" such as Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Double Trouble, the Police and of course, The Beatles. These bands introduced me to great musicians such as Ozzy Osbourne, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, David Gilmore, Dr. Mark Knofler, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sting and Sir Paul Mcartney. Of course I knew Elvis Presley is the king of rock but I never went that far. He did not fit in into my appetite. What did fit in naturally was and still is, the modern Rock King, inventor of freakish blues, Jimi Hendrix.

Occasionally I do enjoy some pop songs but it was more because of the sexy girls singing - Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Shakira, Spice Girls, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and the list goes on. Hip Hop was not in my DNA except for Will Smith. At that time the Rock influence was deeply embeded especially when jamming sessions (I play the bass guitar) were filled with Rock songs, or, if not, derivative of Rock, such as Alternative or Grunge. That myopic dimension was soon broken when I met Ahmad Izham Omar, a Malaysian song writer and producer (who produced Innuendo's albums). We talked about music. We strategised genres to capture audiences when he was the CEO of 8TV and radio stations such as Hot FM, Fly FM and One FM. We had some jamming sessions, of which, some of it involved stars such as Amy Search and Jacklyn Victor. He was well balanced in his interest. He appreciated both "Rock" and "Non-Rock". He simply appreciates music... full stop.

He (Izham) provided me with a new realm of discovery - music was no longer driven by energy alone. It had various elements that require intellectual intervention. Everything had to be synergised like pieces of puzzles - chord arrangements, melody, genre, beat, lyrics, types of instrument and the most epitome ingredient, the "feel". It is as if music is supposed to give some transcending enlightenment. As a result, I started listening to  Chick Corea, Kenny Wayne Shepard, Jeff Buckley, John Mayer, Mike Stern, Tracy Chapman, Living Colour and had intensified my listening to Izham's favourite, The Beatles. I learnt a hell of a lot about music from Izham. It gets interesting when he makes fascinating observations on song structure. For example, most songs have even bars in a verse (eight or four) but the song Yesterday, by the Beatles, has seven. He also gave me insights on how my bass guitar playing should fit in bridging the beats from the drums to the other instruments and laying out the rhythms for the vocals and guitars to ride on as well as providing the notes and melody that fences a song together. This all sounds very philosophical but when comprehended, it is the substance of that "intellectual" intervention that makes a song really, really good to listen to.

In the end, I had embarked on a wonderful journey into the music world retrospectively and prospectively; and jumping from one genre to another. I accept all genres of music for a better understanding of music universally. I also utilise, where possible, the various techniques that the different genres can offer, and, in my mind, appreciation of music cannot be guided by the musicians solely as it must reciprocate the interest of the listeners. In other words, musicians should not limit their musical creativity to what he or she believes in but also to include what the listeners believe in. Despite all that, when asked who or which band had the most influence in my musical journey, I'd answer, Metallica!!!!! ..... and hail Burton.

(Original Lineup excluding Dave Mustaine)
L to R:
James Hetfield (Vocals/Guitars), Kirk Hammet (Guitar),
Lars Ulrich (Drums) and Cliff Burton RIP (Bass)

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