Touring the UK in Black History Month and into November is Philip Okwedy’s The Gods Are All Here, a one-man show about the performer's distant relationship with his parents and myths about the gods.
Captivating and sincere; vivid yet intimate
He grew up away from his Welsh mother and Nigerian father in Pembroke Dock, with a foster mother, Aunty Barbara. His parents' complicated yet fascinating long-distance relationship is brought back to life through all he has left of them: some letters from his father to his mother, a couple of fragmented memories from his childhood, and the only photo of his parents together, all of which are laid out on the stage. That photo is on an easel, with one him and Aunty Barbara on another. A chair, a table and textile decorations behind him form the rest of the set, all playing a part in the storytelling, apart from the drapes. He comes on stage and begins his story, but the house lights keep the us gently lit, so that he can make eye contact with everyone in the room.
His autobiographical narrative is woven seamlessly with a story based on the African diaspora myth of Mami Wata along with West African folktales, the horrors of colonialism the Biafran War and his own experiences of family and racism in the 1960's and 70's. With the help of Michael Harvey as director and dramaturg, Okwedy’s writing has a unique and memorable way of tying diverse themes together into a compelling story, so that each separate strand of the narrative becomes just as personal as the autobiographical one, resonating with one another in surprising ways.
His style of story-telling is captivating and sincere; vivid yet intimate. Despite a few verbal slip-ups, the way he uses his body and voice is considered, painting colourfully detailed scenes without artifice. He has enough charisma to make us listen closely, laugh, think and even sing along acapella without it feeling forced.
The piece achieves something only solo performance theatre can: the physical presence of Okwedy with his mother’s secret letters combined with his genuine enthusiasm allows the author to share a part of his life with a room of people in a way a novel or film simply wouldn't be able to. At its core, The Gods Are All Here shows a lovable storyteller sharing an infectious wonder at the interconnectedness of all living things.