What Remains of Us review – highly charged reunion of a divided Korean family | Theatre


It is August 2000. In a Seoul hotel at the second state-organised reunion of divided Korean families, Seung-Ki (from South Korea) is reunited with her father Kwan-Suk (from North Korea) for the first time in half a century. Allowed to meet for a total of 12 hours, arranged into six meetings over three days, there is much to be remembered, revealed and reconciled as the clock runs down under the surveillance of officials, CCTV cameras and the amassed international press.

It is an almost unbearably dramatic situation. Evocatively directed by Sita Calvert-Ennals to a script by David Lane that is based on real-life accounts, Seung-Ki and Kwan-Suk’s meetings are punctuated and interspersed by Dan Canham’s choreographed physical sequences. On a stage of functional corporate hospitality designed by Lulu Tam and lit by Peter Small, there is an overwhelming sense that the time permitted is never enough. The musical score by Jae-Moon Lee and Duncan Speakman (with sound design by Speakman) causes fissures in time; it jarringly skips ahead, stretches back decades, and the future hurries to arrive.

Words feel inadequate in such a pressing moment, and here the physical sequences are particularly compelling. A slowly collapsing body, a cheek almost set in a palm, or eyes that glisten as arms are outstretched, reveal a deep subtext. What is unsaid – by choice, ignorance or instruction – is articulated through movement, and it is a powerful exploration of the protracted quietude of grief.

The acting is beautifully detailed, with both Jung Sun den Hollander as Seung-Ki and Kwong Loke as Kwan-Suk offering deeply committed performances. There’s an unsettling incongruence between the banality of the hotel setting and the unimaginable emotionality of the situation. Such contrasts are navigated deftly by both performers, and an extraordinary high domestic drama never strains incredulousness. Minor interactions are striking: a meal, eaten in stubborn silence, is a highlight.

What Remains of Us is absorbingly staged, movingly acted and there is something unnerving about bearing witness to this brief enactment of reconciliation and hope in the ongoing Korean conflict while history turns another catastrophic page half a world away.

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