The story of a family ripped apart by war could not be more relevant right now. With the awful Russian invasion of Ukraine, What Remains Of Us has a level of topicality that no-one could have expected when the play was first planned.
The conflict this production focuses on is the militarised border between North and South Korea. It is based on the real life events in 2000 when the Red Cross organised temporary reunions of family members who hadn’t seen each other for 50 years.
Jung Sen den Hollander, who was the Ghost in hit TV show Killing Eve, plays Seung-Ki. She is meeting her father Kwan-Suk (Kwong Loke) for the first time since she was three-years-old.
The two have just three meetings over six days lasting 12 hours to catch up on a lifetime. Kwan-Suk lives in North Korea where he has another wife and family. He praises his life and the ‘Glorious Leader’ in the totalitarian state and Seung-Ki’s hopes for him to return to South Korea seems unlikely to be fulfiled.
The set design by Lula Tam is sparse. There are only two chairs, a table and a large screen. The dialogue is limited too with lots of the action taking place as dance.
The family reunions were heavily monitored by the North Korean authorities and that is cleverly illustrated by an occassional security camera shot of the father and daughter’s meeting on the big screen. The sound by Duncan Speakman creates a spooky atmosphere which emphasises the control by the totalitarian state. There’s also a clock throughout with the time and date sometimes reverting back to the past as the actors recreate short scenes as flashbacks.
This is a impressive play with plenty of well communicated emotion. It’s an intense 90 minutes with just two actors and plenty of physical movement.
The dancing is an interesting way to convey the tension and despair between the two relatives. It mostly works but at times it feels forced and uncomfortable.
Overall though this is a powerful play which reminds us, at the most crucial of times, just how devastating on families a war can be.
What Remains Of Us is at Bristol Old Vic until 12 March 2022.