For most people, the idea of directing one theatre show is already a challenge. The workload, the rehearsals and dealing with actors can be a major struggle.
But theatre veteran Chin San Sooi views things very differently. That explains his decision to take on three shows at once.
To direct any number of shows, according to him, is always a delight. And doing three shows helps him to see “reality”.
“Directing one play is madness. But doing three is pure sanity!” says Chin, with a smile on his face.
Yup, he clarifies that the more theatre plays the better, they keep him sane.
Chin was in a devilish mood during this recent interview at the Play Haus in Kuala Lumpur.
“And besides, three plays means I have three people to torture instead of one!” he exclaims.
Chin, 78, is working on a trio of solo performance shows, fittingly called Monologues, which are scheduled to run at the Play Haus.
His first show features Pearlly Chua, 62, in Stella Kon’s iconic Emily Of Emerald Hill, a 1980s-era monodrama about a Peranakan matriarch.
Early last year, Chin staged Emily in a charity show (with Chua acting) for retired composer and songwriter Datuk Ooi Eow Jin.
The actress will perform what is, arguably, her most famous role in two languages: the June 28-30 shows will see her run riot in English, while the July 19-21 shows will see her handle a Mandarin version of the play.
On July 5-7, Chin directs Alfred Loh, 35, in OYIF (On Your Imaginary Forces), named after a line from William Shakespeare’s play Henry V.
In this show, Loh will play 17 Shakespearean characters, featuring some of the Bard’s most dramatic, outrageous and poetic scenes.
Finally, Chin returns to Emily Of Emerald Hill on July 12-14, but he will present it in a different format.
His third production in the Monologues series will feature Alvin Looi, 45, taking on the classic play, but as a storyteller narrating the life of Emily.
“I’m delighted that Alvin has taken the challenge to interpret the role. I had approached two other men but they refused. I have always wanted a male to portray Emily, not in drag, as it would detract from the role for she is essentially a person struggling in society,” says Chin.
The monologue format, Chin notes, is the best way to truly showcase the talent of an actor.
“In other theatre play formats, there are lots of people on stage. You share the spotlight, and ultimately, it’s the story that really holds the audience. For a monologue, it’s just one person on stage. He has to hold the audience, and a really good actor can hold them in awe,” he explains.
For Chua’s version of Emily next month, Chin says it is the first time she will be performing it in Mandarin. While translations of the Emily script already exist, Chin feels that they are not very accurate, and so he will be using – or devising – his own version.
“We’ve been doing Emily for a long time, since 1990. It’s been very popular, people ask us to do it again and again. Yet there is still so much to explore with it,” says Chin.
For OYIF, on the other hand, Loh has a real handful of a job.
Under the spotlight, he has to shift and shuffle quickly, playing many of Shakespeare’s popular characters, including Henry V (Henry V), Shylock (The Merchant Of Venice) and Brutus (Julius Caesar).
Another test is for him to handle two different characters speaking to each other.
“They’re all torture! But they all torture different sensitivities. Some of them you have to go to certain quiet places, but you still have to find certain wells of emotions. Others, San Sooi has allowed me to be a bit histrionic, and that becomes a full workout,” says Loh during a rehearsal session.
One of the hardest moments in the show, he reveals, comes during at an exchange between Othello and Iago, two very different characters.
“It’s some effort to jump between subtlety and (raw) passion. I tell (Chin) San Sooi that every time I do that scene, I’m about to black out. The mental gymnastics and the corresponding physical characteristics are a challenge,” he mentions.
For theatre newcomers, Chin sees OYIF as a good introduction of Shakespeare’s works with its intended connotations loud and clear.
Looi is looking forward to finding his way around the Emily Of Emerald Hill script on stage. It will serve as a test for the actor. His only previous experience with monologues has been performing a 10-minute set in Dead Man’s Cellphone.
“When San Sooi asked me (to try), I thought it would be interesting. I’ve seen Pearlly Chua as Emily, and also Marina Tan in Postcards From Rosa and What Am I, A Bloody Banyan Tree?. I’m totally in awe of these two amazing actors,” reveals Looi.
“From an audience member’s perspective, this play is fun to watch. I can relate to the intricate power play in her household as I come from a big nyonya family. It’s an emotional rollercoaster to journey with Emily, I can laugh and I cry with her,” he adds.
Monologues will be held at The Play Haus, Pearl Point Shopping Gallery, Old Klang Road in Kuala Lumpur. Pearlly Chua’s Emily Of Emerald Hill plays on June 28-30 (English) and July 19-21 (Mandarin). Alfred Loh’s OYIF is on from July 5-7, while Alvin Looi’s Emily of Emerald Hill is on July 12-14. All shows are at 8pm (Friday/ Saturday) and 3pm (Sunday). Tickets are RM88 (one show), RM128 (two shows), RM158 (three shows) and RM168 (four shows). For tickets, call 011-1682 9929, 018-7353 288. FB: The Play Haus.