Joe Sellman-Leava’s one-man piece Labels focuses on the way in which concepts around identity and displacement are formed and discussed by society. Drawing on his own experiences, Sellman-Leava explores how powerful words can be, especially when used to discriminate.
From the departure of his dad’s family from Uganda because of Idi Amin’s regime, to his unsuccessful interactions with a racist on Tinder, Sellman-Leava is able to engage with the room on a personal level with his brilliant performance. Through explaining the parallels between his own life, and that of his father’s, it becomes clear that actually even though we believe we have progressed into the 21st century, people’s racist ideologies really haven’t come that far. The text mixes anecdotal accounts with words uttered by politicians and people from mainstream media, focusing on the discourse they use. He quotes an overtly racist Conservative Party slogan from the 60s, and then Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins from recent years, which emphasises this lack of progression and acceptance. Despite the serious nature of the play, Sellman-Leava provides comic relief throughout, performing a spot on nasal Ed Miliband, amongst other impressions.
A very beautiful moment appears in the piece when Sellman-Leava, as his father, tells us the story of his arrival to the UK as an 8 year old boy, and seeing snow for the first time. The poetic writing is evocative and rhythmic, building up to a very stunning and powerful speech. Hearing his experiences of racial prejudice in the workplace and interactions with far right supporters is emotional and moving, and a moment which stands out the most. This is a brilliantly written and performed piece that highlights the extents of everyday racism, and how easy it is to become blind to words and their meanings. Looking at the way in which media discourse is used now to describe migrants and refugees, and in light of the recent Brexit vote, Labels feels more relevant than ever, leading the way for important discussions.
Labels is at the Pleasance Courtyard (Beside) until 29th August.