By Isabella Fraser
A thought-provoking, personal and sensitively presented show, written and performed by Joe Sellman-Leava, it draws from Sellman-Leava’s personal experience of prejudice and the commentary that has been in the public arena from politicians and media figures about immigration.
Sellman-Leava is an engaging presenter, who discusses the labels that have been used to describe people and cultures in the past few decades. His ability to mimic politicians and commenters is uncanny and the choices of the speeches are shocking; heard in the context of this show, they highlight not only how we are still hearing bigotry, but that while there has been a shift in attitude, there have been others that have remained the same. The Enoch Powell speech is disquieting as it sends a shiver down the spine, unsettling the atmosphere: the knowledge that people still talk in the same way today is shameful. The modern-day comments from David Cameron and Katie Hopkins are perfectly pitched, to show those who can seem as if they are saying one thing but mean another, or those who deliberately remain self-centred.
What Sellman-Leava brings to this show, not only his personal experience of mixed heritage, growing up in the south of England, but an impressive ability to engage the audience intellectually: at times it feels more like a dialogue than a monologue. He uses labels literally, with various audience members being given the sticky label of ‘friend’, ‘enemy’, etc, but always being considerate with the person involved. There are moments of humour with this: the way in which he makes his attempt at dating through an app and experiences racism, is both funny – the ridiculous comments from the other person – and heart breaking as the words bite home.
What Labels does eloquently, particularly with the closing scenes, is remind us that we are all people in this world together and in a time when some people are literally dying to seize the opportunity of a better life, labeling each other with hurtful, hateful terminology is not only wrong, but ignores the fact that we as a world are not numbers, we are human beings. This show will leave you thinking about its message for a long time afterwards.