Peranakan Museum celebrates Emily of Emerald Hill

Emily of Emerald Hill is Singapore’s best-known and most-staged play at home and internationally. Written in 1982 by Stella Kon, it is credited for reviving Peranakan culture which had fallen out of favor during the 60s-70s, thanks to its rich characterisation of Peranakan life, which expresses a distinctly Singaporean identity. A new special exhibition at the Peranakan Museum, Emily of Emerald Hill: Singaporean Identity on Stage (which runs until February 2013), explores the cultural background and history of the play.

Emily of Emerald Hill tells the story of a Peranakan woman from young bride to strong-willed matriarch in the Peranakan enclave of Emerald Hill, in Singapore. The one-woman play reveals the struggles and sacrifices of the character Emily Gan in the mid-20th century.

The setting of the play is based on Stella Kon’s childhood home, a house named Oberon, on Emerald Hill. In a special installation, the playwright recalls and re-imagines aspects of her own family’s history. Using original Oberon furniture, enhanced with objects from the museum’s collection, Kon created an arrangement that is an imagining of the Emerald Hill house, rather than a historically accurate record. Three key pieces of furniture evoke memories of the family: an imposing cabinet packed with porcelain and silver, a trophy won by an illustrious ancestor, and a standing clock that was a gift to Oberon’s matriarch from her children. The matriarch, Stella Kon’s grandmother, was the inspiration for the play’s character Emily.

Emily of Emerald Hill: Singaporean Identity on Stage explores the Peranakan background against which the play is set, and also examines the performance history and legacy of the play within Singapore’s theatre scene.