When an armistice was declared to halt the Korean War in 1953, hundreds of thousands of families were left divided on either side of the Korean Demilitarised Zone: since 2000, nineteen reunions have been organised by the state with a select few invited across the border to temporarily reunite with family they have not seen in over fifty years. After these reunions they will never meet again.
Based on these extraordinary events where families meet for a limited number of hours over the course of a handful of meetings, What Remains of Us imagines one such reunion, between a woman living in Seoul and the father she hasn’t seen since she was three, who lives in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang. Writer David Lane and director Sita Calvert-Ennals have gathered together hours of interviews and transcriptions, including those from participants and the Red Cross in South Korea, to create a powerful, personal and political play that asks: what do you say after 50 years apart?
Seung-Ki hasn’t seen her father Kwan-Suk since she was three. Separated by one of the world’s most militarised borders, they come face to face again in this compelling story based on the state-organised temporary reunions of divided Korean families. With intelligence agencies and the global media looking on, can father and daughter confront their past and find a connection in the present? This raw, moving and at times absurdly funny new play is an urgent response to international debates around borders and the human stories at their centre.
David Yip (The Chinese Detective, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and Jung Sun Den Hollander (the Ghost in Killing Eve) play father and daughter Kwan-Suk and Seung-Ki as they meet for the first time in fifty years.
In addition to the writing and production of the play, David Lane and Sita Calvert-Ennals have been working with students from Korea National University of Arts in Seoul and Bath Spa University to explore their own personal experiences of separation, which will be captured in a short film to share with audiences at theatres and online.
David Lane said, “This story is an expression of the ordinary and the utterly extraordinary: an intimate family reunion holding within it a complex global historical narrative. The piece couldn’t be more urgent for our times, with so many people experiencing separation from home and family. What Remains Of Us revolves around still unresolved tensions in a country that has suffered instability, invasion and division for over a hundred years: but it is an uplifting story of human survival and the triumph of love and hope over war, political oppression, enforced boundaries and corrupted leadership.
The reunions between separated North and South Korean families are state arranged events, taking place over two or three days, and have a heavy media presence. Conversations are monitored, gifts restricted, and a guidebook is provided by the Red Cross in South Korea warning against expressions that might put North Korean family members in a ‘difficult situation’. After the first event in 1985, the exchange was discontinued and not restarted until 2000. The most recent events were in 2015 and 2018.
What Remains of Us is at Bristol Old Vic 30th April – 20th May 2020.