Everything I Own by Daniel Ward – review

“It’s an absolute joy”

Brixton House
Review by: Sophia A Jackson
afridiziak ratings
Published: Friday 28 June 2024, 20:50pm

Everything I Own by Daniel Ward (c) Ali Painter
Everything I Own by Daniel Ward (c) Ali Painter

I felt instantly at home when I settled into my seat to watch Daniel Ward’s  Everything I Own at Brixton House. When I say ‘home’, I mean my grandparents’  home in Birmingham and this feeling of familiarity stayed with me throughout this 80-minute production.

Tony Marshall (Casualty) is the leading man, Errol, in this one-man show, and he encourages us to feel like we’re at home, too and join him in sing song to Walk Away From Love  by David Ruffins, in his late father’s living room. I duly complied.

Having had such a devasting impact on society and our everyday lives, it is understandable that the Pandemic would provide a backdrop for creative outlets for various reasons. In this instance, the main arc of  Everything I Own is the recent loss of Errol’s father to COVID. 

The play highlights the horror of those COVID-19 restrictions preventing us from giving our loved ones the proper send-off they deserved and in Jamaican culture, that also means having to forego Nine Nights with the food, gambling, praying, and singing that takes place at the family home of the deceased, nine nights after they’ve passed to pay respect and tribute to the dearly departed loved one. Instead, Errol  toasts his beloved dad with a shot of rum.

Errol spends much of his time in the living room seated on a brown leather armchair,  packing his father’s things into cardboard boxes and sharing anecdotes and family history along the way. It’s the day before they start selling his father’s things. Music and skankin’ go hand in hand, throughout this Danielle Kassaraté and Daniel Ward’ co-directed show, where we are treated to an eclectic mix from Errol’s dad’s Spotify playlist.

As is often the case in real life, different songs tug at the heartstrings to bring us back to a particular moment in time. I howled at the scene where Errol reminisced about ‘controversially’ having a strong dislike to Janet Kay’s classic lovers rock anthem, Silly Games, and proceeds to screech, his way to the high notes that I know, oh so, well and have obviously failed to reach, like so many of us. Just. Brilliant.

Another favourite scene of mine was when he found that more than one sibling had their eye on their father’s prized Appleton Estate Signature rum (“worth a couple of hundred pounds”). Every time he’s about to take a sip of the aged spirit, he’d get interrupted by a sibling messaging to curse him about not drinking their portion.

Despite the heavy subject matter, there was no trauma that I often feel when seeing our pain on stage, instead, though Tony Marshall’s emotive performance, soothing Northern accent, and fancy footwork, I found this to be a heartwarming and moving depiction of growing up black and British. I appreciated the chance to reflect on my own childhood growing up in West Bromwich, Birmingham and the racism, I too experienced.

The set is a simple Caribbean living room with a Jamaican flag, black and white framed photos, and what looks like a VHS box set of Roots, a record player and a box of vinyl’s next to it. Our protagonist recalls going through Spotify to create the playlist, and his dad was convinced that he wouldn’t be able to find his beloved H’Alton H’Ellis (Alton Ellis), Gregory H’Isaacs (Gregory Isaacs), and Dawn Penn’s No, No No, to name but a few.

The audience is treated to snippets of various tracks throughout the show, creating a feel good vibe for us to nod our heads  to and push out our lips as we do in my family, when we’re really feeling a tune and the bassline hits us. When Sister Nancy’s What a Bam Bam played, the bassline reverberated throughout the space, making me wish I was going to a ‘dance’ immediately after the performance. And I loved when he reminisced about his dad playing  Nina Simone’s Young, Gifted and Black –  his hype song before a big night out. Such a sweet memory.

A significant and consistent theme within the play is Errol’s relationship with his beloved son, who has promised to come and help his dad sort through the house and put post it notes on the things he wants. He refers to him often. His son is a staunch supporter of Black Lives Matter, another reference to the COVID era, where this movement made a resurgence. There’s a generational clash though because for Errol, we’ve been here before and to what avail?

The marching and protesting in a bid to fight against racism and oppression isn’t something new:  “we’ve been fighting injustice forever and now the world wants to pay attention”?, asks, Errol. A perfect choice to reflect the change in mood,  Syl Johnson’s Is It Because I’m Black? plays as Errol sits in his father’s armchair, the lights are dimmed and there’s a spotlight on Errol giving us a moment for reflection.

Everything I Own covers a lot – of course there’s grief, but we also touch upon the importance of representation on our TV screens with shows such as Desmond’s and seeing a regular, black British family. His parents were part of the Windrush generation and the play highlights that and the significant contribution they made to Britain and it’s economy, and the racism he also faced on arrival from Jamaica, the complexity and unfairness of having the ‘race chat’ with your child when they are barely out of nappies, and the repressed anger from racism that we are forced to carry around. Being black and British is a lot.

As a black-Briton of Jamaican heritage, I found this production to be hilarious, alongside being filled with warmth and love and I felt truly connected to so many of the relatable themes – huge congratulations to Daniel Ward for his on point writing and Tony Marshall for his incredible acting.

Don’t miss this play a second time around – it’s an absolute joy.

Need to know: Everything I Own runs until Sat 6 July at Brixton House.  Access £12 tickets using code EIO12 for all remaining performances. Find out more.