The Gods Are All Here, Phil Okwedy, Tobacco Factory Bristol and touring

ONE-MAN shows can take many forms and cover the widest of subjects. When the audience gathered for storyteller, poet and musician Phil Okwedy’s solo show they were greeted by an easel with a large photograph of his mother and father, and of his beloved Aunty Barbara and himself as a schoolboy in front of an early 20th century Pembroke Dock house, they would never have imagined the breadth of storytelling that was to fill the next couple of hours.

During that time Phil would not only outline his own unusual upbringing, but, as he interlaced myths and legends with the story, put forward telling arguments for tolerance among people and the necessity for humans to respect and take care of other animals and the environment.

Born to a Welsh mother and Nigerian father, who. after studying the workings of the post office in this country, returned to Africa and another family there, Phil never lived with either of his parents, but instead was raised by a loving aunty in Pembroke Dock. It was the discovery, after his mother’s death, of letters from his father written over a period of decades, that gave him an insight into this strange on-off love affair between his parents, who were destined never to see each other again – through the Post Office kept a strong bond between them!

Throughout the telling of his own story Phil constantly shoots off at a tangent, like a west African Griot telling tales of folklore and myths and segments of history, full of allegories with his own life, the way we live and how society is run today. None of them are told in one single sweep, but instead they intertwine like twisting colours of a rainbow, each in turn dominating the storytelling.

We go on a horrendous sea voyage with a wise woman captured for slavery and learn of the curse she brings down on the captain of the ship. We go into an animal-run court to try and find a better way to mete out justice and find freedom, and follow the adventures of a young man looking for the meaning of life. As he reaches adulthood, we learn with him the way to mix the colours in a lake, half yellow-half blue, so that they become green, bringing fertility and love to the land and those who dwell in peace on it.

Water is also a theme in Phil’s life, as he leans to respond like water, rather than to fight a battle against odds he can not possible win – against racist jibes and prejudice encountered in early life. He also learns from those letters that the father he never knew or believed wanted anything to do with him had constantly asked for him to join him in Nigeria.

When, as a middle-aged man he finally did make that journey and meet, on friendly terms, the father he never knew, he realised that it was West Wales not West Africa that was both his spiritual and actual home.

Phil Okwedy will be bringing his storytelling talents to Chew Stoke and Norton-sub-Hamdon village halls on Thursday 9th and Friday 10th November. Both shows start at 7.30.


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