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What Remains of Us

David Lane
Bristol Old Vic
Bristol Old Vic

Jung Sun den Hollander and Kwong Loke as Seung-Ki and Kwan-Suk Credit: Kirsten McTernan
Kwong Loke Credit: Kirsten McTernan
Jung Sun Den Hollander Credit: Kirsten McTernan
Jung Sun Den Hollander and Kwong Loke Credit: Kirsten McTernan

Just imagine. You have been separated from your father for 50 years. You last saw him when you were seven. You have thought about him every day since. You have no way of knowing if he was alive, dead, or what became of him. Suddenly you are told he has been found and you are going to meet him. What happened? Why has he been out of touch for so long? Has he thought about you? Did he try to get back to you?

But this isn’t some fairy tale reunion of accidentally separated families finding happiness with each other again. This is a real-life situation of families separated by the Korean War of the 1950s. South Korean soldiers captured in the North, with no chance of return, isolated from the outside world and with no way of getting messages out of the country. On the other side of the divide, the daughter, wife and parents fleeing the war and waiting for news. And waiting, and waiting.

Inspired by the real-life reunions of divided families, David Lane’s What Remains of Us imagines the reunion of Kwan-Suk and Seung-Ki (father and daughter), who have not seen or heard from each other for 50 years, who might have been part of the state-managed reunions of August 2000.

But this is not a fairy tale. The anxious anticipations in the waiting hall, childhood memories frozen from the last connection 50 years ago, the initial distress of recognition, and the aching chasm of how each developed a way of coping with their very different circumstances—almost as unbridgeable as the politics that divides them.

Lane’s script carefully balances an entire spectrum of emotions: anxious anticipation, delight, disappointment, loss, thrill, rage, happiness, love, hurt and hope. Kwong Loke (Kwan-Suk) and Jung Sun den Hollander (Seung-Ki) sympathetically portray the pain and anguish from both sides and the awkward and hopeful attempts to make sense of their experiences and the situation they find themselves in. Dissonant music (Duncan Speakman) and choreography (Dan Canham) attempt to fill in where words are not enough. A large table split through the middle with a crack that replicates the border between the two countries takes centre-stage.

It is a worthy reminder that the consequences of war never leave us. Physical wounds may scar, or heal. But emotions take longer, perhaps longer than the lives of those affected. It is a story told with dignity and humanity with the futility of war continuing to explode emotions years after the last bomb dropped.

Reviewer: Joan Phillips