Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review: Phil Okwedy: The Gods Are All Here

There were times you could have heard a pin drop, during Phil Okwedy’s The Gods Are All Here – a masterclass in theatrical storytelling.

The rich tapestry of imagery created by Okwedy with taut direction by Michael Harvey, brings together legends, myths and stories from the African Diaspora. It centers around Mami Wata, her journey spanning time, continents, slavery, injustice and healing. These stories interconnect with Okwedy’s own family myths, structured around a series of letters his father wrote to his mother through the 60s and 70s.

Phil Okwedy never grew up with his mother or father. His father lived in Nigeria and his mother lived in Britain. There had been a short period of time both had lived together in Wales in connection with his father’s work. Both had hoped to live together in Lagos, but the correspondence showed it to be a pipe dream. They were living in ‘cloud cuckoo land’.

Phil only had his father’s letters to his mother to understand their story. However, each reply created a picture of the dynamics of their relationship, which must have been an unusual one in Britain at the time.

As we follow Mami Wata’s journey, we also follow Phil’s corresponding one, which takes us from Wales, to Nigeria to Tulse Hill to Cardiff and Neath.

Phil grew up in a lodging house with a foster mother ‘Aunt Barbara’. The first time he even encountered other Black people was when he was four years of age. Two men took up lodgings at the residence he lived in with his brother for a few days.

What also plays out in The Gods Are All Here, is a fascinating insight into British social history. We see through first hand historical documents and Phil’s own recollections what it meant to grow up as a mixed race foster child through the 60s and 70s in Britain.

Education was tough. Particularly in secondary school, and in the 70s, racism in Britain was peaking. Open racism in any case. And not helped by nauseating language and attitudes perpetuated on TV with shows like Love Thy Neighbour.

It was a time where institutional racism ran rampant until the Macpherson Report, whereup racists became more careful about what they said to whom at work. A bit. And do so still. Even this year, the police chief at Avon and Somerset Police was forced to admit it is institutionally racist.

Review Phil Okwedy The Gods Are All Here

A later discovered letter written by Aunt Barbara to her local councillor showed just how much racism Phil was encountering at secondary school. Correspondence showed that the Director of Education was personally aware of the high levels of ‘persecution’ Phil was facing. But yet nothing changed.

What could be dark and gritty storylines aren’t the downers they could be. With matter of fact recollection, they feel tinged in a sorrow, yet the story moves, flowing like the current on a river. Phil delivers his stories with an innate sense of calmness yet a natural magnetism that you cannot help but be drawn in by.

There wasn’t just one performer on stage this evening. An uncredited BSL interpreter was also giving a joyous performance in-line with the temperature of the show. The house lights were half up and a single latecomer loitering by the door was warmly greeted in. All really important things to make audiences feel welcomed and relaxed.

At various points of the show, Phil had entered or exited stage singing:

None of us are free
None of us are free
None of us are free
One of us in chains
None of us are free

Come the end of the show, several audience members began to sing along with him, until everyone was joining in. These moments where our own stories and histories interconnect with others are what joins us together – as the healed river continues to flow.

For more information about Phil Okwedy:

For what’s on at Tobacco Factory Theatres:

Cast and Creatives
Created and performed by storyteller Phil Okwedy
Directed by Michael Harvey
Design by Molara Adesigbin
Lighting design by Elanor Higgins
Technical Stage manager – Dom Murray
Producer – Naomi Wilds
Engagement producer – Aoife O’Connor
Engagement Coordinator – Christelle Pellecuer
Marketing Manager and PR Consultant – Suzanne Carter Marketing
Audience Development Consultant – Bid Mosaku

Photographs: Simon Gough
YouTube Shorts

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