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Theatre Review Korean divide bridged by bond of blood

What Remains of Us
Bristol Old Vic

DAVID LANE’S play based on a brief reunion of North and South Korean families 60 years after the Korean War has taken on a profound relevance with the current conflict in Ukraine.

The division of Korea saw the displacement of 10 million families and since 1953 there have been 21 state-controlled family reunions where parents and children selected by their country have had the opportunity to meet each other under the watchful eyes of both the authorities and the world’s press.

Seung-Ki (Jung Sun den Hollander) the daughter of Kwan-Suk (Kwong Loke) last saw her father 50 years previously when he joined the South Korean army. Her family have clung on to his memory despite hearing nothing in all that time. News of his existence and ability to meet up with her at the Red Cross organised reunion has stirred up the past and raised many questions.

The spectrum of emotions undergone by both characters is played out on a split stage with two projected time sequences illustrating the brevity of their meeting, the division in their lives and enabling one or the other to experience brief flashbacks to earlier days.

The initial tension between cultures and conflicting relationship to the past is expressed in their contrasting defiance of each other’s emotional perspectives highlighted by stylised movement sequences, but gradually the family bond draws them back together and the representatives from different worlds become father and daughter again.

Both performances are outstanding with Loke’s initial stoic patriotism and tight-lipped reserve concealing his tortured feelings, effectively contrasting with Hollander’s effusive outpourings that dissolve into anger at what appears to be her father’s rejection of their former lives. As the event moves forward and the barriers come down the bond of blood is shown to be deeper than cultural differences and capable of spanning the decades.

Director Sita Calvert-Ennals ensures the divided worlds of the two characters dominates much of the performance in both physical and emotional terms and highlights the chasm that has to be crossed to rekindle the father and daughter’s love.

Runs until March 12 2022, box-office: bristololdvic.org.uk

 

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