Labels @ Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh Fringe

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.


Sex Workers’ Opera @ The Pleasance

Created by sex workers, their friends and their families, Sex Workers’ Opera is a show that brings together a collection of verbatim performance, some very funny sketch scenes, dance, poetry, song, video and much more. It is bold and sexy, and although it can feel awkward at times, it has some very touching moments.

Co-directors Alex Etchart and Siobhan Knox use a mother-daughter relationship to frame the action on stage. The mother serves as a tool to question the actions of the daughter, a sex-worker, and comes to represent the voice of ordinary people: those who can never fully understand sex-workers. Presenting the mother in this way allows the action to be naturally guided by questions the mother would like answers to about sex-work, helping audiences understand the characters and their stories.

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Photo: Julio Etchart

The piece brings up legitimate and important points raised by those who do sex work as a profession, bringing to light stereotypes and perceived expectations. There is humour in the piece, such as a scene depicting different types of pornography, and what the government deems “acceptable”. But serious issues are also discussed, like the disadvantages of criminalisation, the effects sex work has on people and their families, and the safety of sex workers themselves. Etchart and Knox tackle these issues lightly, with humour and sketch, as well as  with some very intimate and touching moments.

The delivery of the stories is authentic, and the sincerity of the performers draws in the audience. For example Vera Rodriguez’s touching story about her life as a sex worker, her abusive partner, and the consequences of their relationship. Her interest in photography shines through the stunning photos projected on the screen. Rodriguez was also one of the strongest performers, the skit between her and her client asking for relationship advice was the funniest moment in the show.

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Photo: Julio Etchart

The interactions between mother and daughter were a chance for the audience to question the scenes before and reflect on what they had witnessed. However the repetitiveness of the dialogue in these transitions felt uncomfortable at times. It would have been better if they were kept shorter , which would have helped with the awkwardness of the performances. Additionally, the technical elements of the transitions as a whole were very weak and felt under-rehearsed. This meant there was a lot of waiting and watching people move things around on stage. If they were slicker, this would have cut down on the running time, which at 3 hours (including the interval) feels too long.

This isn’t to say, however, that the show isn’t worth watching. The intriguing characters, their lives, their stories, and how they deal with adversity is the Sex Workers’ Opera‘s soul. The cast is comprised of those who identify as straight, LGBTQI, have disabilities, and hail from around the world, and their diversity is celebrated. The show tackles a serious issue in a very theatrical way, making it accessible, enlightening, and a great show to see.

Sex Workers’ Opera is at The Pleasance until 29th May

Transports @The Pleasance

Cornwall-based theatre company Pipeline Theatre are back at the The Pleasance with a revival of their debut production Transports. Set in the 1970s, the play explores the theme of displacement through the characters Lotta, a German immigrant who arrived in England on the Kindertransport during the Second World War, and Dinah, a volatile teenager who has moved from one foster home to the next. Although the company explore a very troubling subject, the humorous aspects of the play allow it to be a very thought provoking, yet entertaining piece of work.

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On initial meeting, Lotta (Juliet Welch) and Dinah (Hannah Stephens) seem very different from each other: Lotta likes to listen to the radio and dust her ceramic kittens, while Dinah would rather smoke cigarettes and read about murder and sex. But as the narrative continues, and the action switches between the 70s and late 30s, parallels begin to appear between the two. Just as they begin to communicate, something shocking happens which changes everything, especially the relationship that was starting to develop between them.


Both performers are spectacular on stage. Welch is loveable as Lotta, desperately trying to take care of Dinah, but also fighting with the memory of her own past. She switches effortlessly between characters, as she also plays young Lotta’s carer Mrs Weston. Equally, Stephens is a force on stage, triumphantly portraying Dinah’s troubled character, but also allowing the audience to see a very vulnerable side to her, which is again reflected in her portrayal of the young Lotta.

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The theme of displacement is constantly present throughout the play, and writer and director Jon Welch weaves it brilliantly into the text, as well as use video projections to present old memories. This theme is reflected in particular with the imagery created by the set, designed by Alan and Jude Munden. Two rail tracks stand upright in the middle of the stage while the action is played out around them, and at various points during the performance a pair of bus seats is brought to the stage. There are constant indications of journeys, especially through objects as well, such as Lotta’s bag which is always on stage. The displacement continues when the action switches between 1970, to the late 1930s, when we see the young Lotta adjusting to her new life in England. The switch between the two time frames is smooth, but the constant switching can become jarring, evoking the characters’ frustrations and feelings. Like the action on stage, their lives are thrown from one place to another because of the very unfortunate circumstances they were both forced into. The combination of the set with the writing and great performances allows these emotions to be reflected effortlessly, making the play extremely engaging.

For a play which primarily focuses on the affects of displacement, Welch’s play does not feel displaced at all, especially within the current refugee crisis. It is mentioned at the curtain call that Pipeline are actually raising money for The Good Chance Calais, which is the theatre space based in the Jungle. The spectacular set design and beautiful writing makes Transports an extremely thought-provoking play, and the terrific performances bring this an energy that makes it an excellent piece of theatre.

Work Bard Play Bard @ The Pleasance

I have been really struggling to come up with a topic for my dissertation, so any chance I get to be inspired, I take it. This is why it was great to go along to The Pleasance to watch Work Bard Play Bard, an evening of short Shakespeare performances focussing on issues surrounding gender in his work. The show, curated by Smooth Faced Gentleman, included performances by established companies as well as those who are not as well-known. I think there were definitely some very interesting ideas explored throughout the evening, and new faces that should get a chance to develop these ideas further. Smooth Faced Gentleman were great, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes from their Titus Andronicus. Ashlea Kaye and Stella Taylor as Demitrius and Chiron were on point and full of energy. Kudzi Hudson’s portrayal of Aaron was superb, especially during Act 4 Scene 2 (Aaron is presented with his newborn son). By choosing to perform this scene in particular, the all-female company begin to draw comparisons  between Tamora and Aaron. Both are now mothers, who are brutal and barbaric to other characters, yet compassionate towards their own children. I think the company generally have the gender problems in Shakespeare sussed out and I hope to see more of their work!


Photo: Haz Al-Shaater / Brother Brother

The evening also included several monologues, and the one that stood out to me the most was Tongue To Tell performed by Alex Marlow. He brought to life a short piece inspired by Titus Andronicus, portraying a male Lavinia, after her rape. The idea I think is pretty good and quite an interesting place to start thinking about gender in Shakespeare. Marlow repeats the line “it doesn’t happen to men” several times which is a thought provoking concept that can lead to further discussions about rape culture.  I would really like to see where Marlow goes with this short piece, which I think has the potential to be a fascinating performance. I know that I have only mentioned Titus Andronicus performances so far, but the whole show wasn’t all doom and gloom! The fact that some of the comedy from the evening actually came from not-so-funny plays shows that experimenting with gender can contribute new ideas to Shakespeare’s work. The Handlebards’ Glamis Thou Art (from Macbeth) was particularly amusing, especially because of their choice to use shuttlecocks to represent boobs. Le Mot Juste also used costume and props to explore gender differences in the beginning of their scene from The Merchant of Venice, which was a lot of fun to watch.


Photo: Haz Al-Shaater / Brother Brother

Finally, I just want to say that ending the show with Rosalind’s Epilogue from As You Like It was very fitting. Directed by Scott Ellis, and performed perfectly by Sarah Milton, the Epilogue was a great way to conclude the evening. Overall, I was very pleased to be in a theatre full of people who want to explore and experiment with Shakespeare, and I really do hope that some of the new short pieces lead to bigger ones I can watch, because they really do have that potential.