OTOSOTR is a one-man show performed by Anatoliy Ogay about his grandfather of the same name, who was a Soviet soldier of Korean descent. In 1937, fearing invasion from Japan, the Soviet Union – with collusion from the government of Korea – moved 200,000 Koreans from near the Russian-Korean border, scattering them across the vast country. Ogay’s family ended up in Kazakhstan, and when the Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1941, Ogay the grandfather (then just 17) volunteered for the army.
The show’s narrative is presented as a clash between the past and present, with grandson Ogay making a vlog about editing a video interview where his grandfather discusses his experiences of World War Two as a Soviet Korean. It is also a clash of cultures, with the younger Ogay trying to understand how his grandfather was able to retain his Korean identity alongside his Russian citizenry.
One of the first characters introduced is the recruiting officer for the army. The explicit racism displayed by most of the army characters is shocking, if unsurprising. Ogay credits his survival, in part, to one instance where his commanding officer wanted his unit to go before the penal battalion, the Shtrafbat, to the front. The officer lost the argument – and the Shtrafbat, who were most commonly used as literal cannon fodder, were wiped out.
The set is simple, with Ogay standing in front of a light installation and behind an electronic piano. The lights behind Ogay change depending on the mood of the character he is performing as: white for the modern representation of himself, mostly reds when taken back to his grandfather’s time in the army. While the lights are visually striking, I found them distracting, and felt that they did not enhance the drama. The only exception to this is the light across the piano, that doubled as a prop for one memorable scene.
The music, in contrast, was well performed, and highlighted the different emotions on display.
OTOSOTR is the first show from Kazakhstan to be performed at the Fringe, and it is a fascinating production about an area of history that is rarely discussed – namely the experiences of one of the many different ethnicities that made up the population of the vast Soviet empire.