Joe Sellman-Leava has lived with labels his entire life and he also has to live with the consequences of them. He knows they can be helpful: his dad uses them to find reduced items in the supermarket. But they can also backfire.
Labels may have premiered at the Fringe a year ago, but in light of recent events it’s sadly more relevant and important than ever
His dad’s Indian surname was another label, one that marks him out as different and ‘one of those foreigners’; his label stopped him from getting a job and so he changed his name. A new name, a new label and, at last, a job. This wasn’t at the time of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in the 60s, this was in the 90s. With wit, charm and a lot of sticky labels, Joe recounts his experiences of growing up mixed-race in a Britain that has always defined him as something else.
The minimalist lighting and sound means Joe and his stories take centre stage, with the audience on three sides to create a genuinely intimate space. This allows him to create a meaningful relationship with the audience as he invites them to become participants in the show, all the more effective for moments like an unbelievably uncomfortable Tinder chat. He also proves himself to be a masterful impressionist, reminding us of Enoch Powell’s scaremongering that “In this country in fifteen or twenty years’ time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” before moving on to more recent comments made by Nigel Farage, Katie Hopkins and the like. Also the fact that he’s such a naturally likeable performer makes hearing the racist rhetoric he’s endured all the more abhorrent.
Labels may have premiered at the Fringe a year ago, but in light of recent events it’s sadly more relevant and important than ever; if we’re lucky enough to have more talents like Joe spreading the message of tolerance, then there may be hope for the future.