Vivienne Kennedy reviews What Remains of Us, presented in the Weston Studio at Bristol Old Vic by Judy Owen Ltd in association with Bristol Old Vic, Bath Spa Productions and Korea National University of Arts.
With all that’s going on in the world right now, I feel privileged to take my seat in the Weston Studio at Bristol Old Vic, part of the theatre I’ve not visited since theatres went dark almost two years ago. I don’t know that any of us take things for granted in quite the same way we once did, but I really appreciate having the freedom to spend an evening watching a show and not, for example, hiding underground, worried my home may be destroyed before morning.
Set at the start of this century and based on the true stories of state-organised temporary reunions of divided Korean families, What Remains of Us tells us about a father and daughter meeting for the first time for 50 years… the first time since she was three years old. The reunion is brief, just six meetings, over a space of three days, 12 hours in total, and they know they won’t ever meet again. It’s hard to imagine how that must feel. They don’t even have the luxury of privacy; they are watched by intelligence agencies and global media.
Directed by Sita Calvert-Ennals and starring Kwong Loke as Kwan-Suk and Jung Sun den Hollander as his daughter, Seung-Ki, this one-act play delivers a lot in 90 minutes but spoken word is only part of it. The script is minimal, with much of the story told through movement, sound, music, and, of course, facial expression. We learn that one half of the divided family moved on, started again, while the other half has spent almost their entire life looking back, wondering, missing… hoping. We see all the emotions and realise when faced with the impossible, we each find different ways to bear it.
I began this review by alluding to the current situation in Ukraine and as I leave the theatre I can’t help wondering how much thinking about that affected the way I watched and thought about What Remains of Us… how many people will be separating from their families tonight, and will they still be wondering what happened to them in 50 years time?
If the story of the Korean reunions interests you, I recommend Boris Starling’s novel The Law of the Heart. Set in North Korea, it’s a love story with a difference and I found it a fascinating read. Part of the story is about a grandmother and granddaughter being reunited through this programme. I read it a few months ago and may not have been drawn to see this play had I not; I’m glad I had that background knowledge before seeing it and if it’s a new subject to you, I would suggest some time spent on Google might be useful.
What Remains of Us runs until Saturday 12 March, with performances at 8pm each evening (tonight’s, Wednesday 9 March, is signed) and matinees on Thursday (1:30pm) and Saturday (3pm).
Click HERE for further information and to book online.
Photo: Kirsten McTernan