Author's Note on Emily of Emerald Hill
Friday, March 22, 2013 | 9:29 PM | 0 comments
Emily of Emerald Hill is actually largely based on Kon's grandmother, who presided over a huge house on Emerald Hill Road. It reflects her experiences growing up in a Peranakan family in the 1950s. While Kon set out writing about her grandmother, many other Peranakans were able to identify with Emily as she was a "typical" Nonya. It portrays a world now lost, which survives only in the memories of that generation.
However, Emily's life stories were not an accurate representation of Kon's grandmother's. This is not the true story of one woman -- it is the story of a generation. These stories could be found in any family, hushed up, whispered about, or heard surreptitiously by the child listening in the corner. The stories are not particular to a family or clique, everyone would have heard about it of someone's distant friend or relative. Kon expertly weaves all these stories into one mythically, striking us with a sense of familiarity, as it mirrors the legends of our familial past.
Surprisingly, Emily's first staging was not in Singapore but in Malaysia! It even went to Edinburgh to be presented at the Commonwealth Arts Festival. Kon was very much encouraged by the international audiences' response to the play. They were not confused by the play's local allusions and language, which seemed to suggest the richness of the cultural background. The universal elements of the play allowed anyone from around the world to enjoy and relate to the play. In Singapore, the play has been reprised time and time again. Ivan Heng has even famously proclaimed that he will reprise his role as Emily once every 10 years (he has done it twice as of 2013).
Emily is well-loved by the older generation and an history lesson for the young. Kon found it very heartwarming that a girl was able to get to know her mother better through the play. It further emphasizes literature as an alternative to learning and understanding!