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Credit: Anna-Bruce
Credit: Anna-Bruce

Labels, Theatre Royal Stratford East – Review

Pros: An eclectic mix of performance styles including monologue, stand-up and impressions offer a unique view of an emotive subject.

Cons: In its current format this performance could only be viewed in small venues.

Pros: An eclectic mix of performance styles including monologue, stand-up and impressions offer a unique view of an emotive subject. Cons: In its current format this performance could only be viewed in small venues. Why would an intelligent, hard-working man have to change his name just to get a job; and why would that man’s son still have to tolerate racism in the 21st Century? This is the premise for Joe Sellman-Leava’s exposition of how prejudice still dogs society. Joe has an English mother and Indian father ejected from Uganda by Idi Amin; and it’s a shocking realisation of…

Summary

Unmissable

A superbly crafted study of contradiction and prejudice, confronting us all with uncomfortable truths.

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Why would an intelligent, hard-working man have to change his name just to get a job; and why would that man’s son still have to tolerate racism in the 21st Century? This is the premise for Joe Sellman-Leava’s exposition of how prejudice still dogs society. Joe has an English mother and Indian father ejected from Uganda by Idi Amin; and it’s a shocking realisation of how little progress we’ve really made in the last 40 years.

Joe begins by pulling a trunk on stage covered in labels; he pulls nameplates out, impersonating public figures who’ve spoken on issues of race; Enoch Powell, inevitably with his rivers of blood speech; Idi Amin; Nick Griffin, BNP leader; David Cameron and Ed Milliband, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump; Tony Abbott, Australian Premier and David Starkey, historian. For the sake of contrast, he treats us to wickedly good impressions of Jeremy Clarkson and rent-a-gob reality TV has been, Katie Hopkins. He finally hits us with the Conservative Party’s 1964 election slogan and its use of the n-word.

Joe uses ‘labels’ to question whether everyone is guilty of prejudice, purely on the basis that somebody is different. Anyone could be labelled as an outsider without reason or logic; we’ve all been a newbie at school, university or work and not been immediately accepted. We may have missed out on promotion at work because our face doesn’t fit or just fallen foul of office politics; is this kind of prejudice more acceptable because it’s not based on race? At university, Joe was asked where he came from; he replied Devon, but originally from Cheltenham; the inquisition continued; where are his parents from. Ah, his mother is English and father is Indian; does that make him any less English because his skin is slightly darker? It’s a conundrum that no one could reasonably answer; the twisted view of skin tone continued when Joe ventured onto Tinder, the dating app.

It may be easy to laugh at blatant ignorance, but it’s incredibly sad to learn of Joe’s experience. What’s so alarming is that he is only 25 years old, yet has been subject to casual racism. The very same treatment meted out to his father when he came to England in the 1970s; whilst such treatment could never be excused, the attitude to ethnicity was then less enlightened; but why is race still such a blind spot? Britain has played host to mass immigration since the Romans first pitched up; white Brits are a glorious hybrid of Viking, Norse, Celt, Pict and Norman French. For all our commitment to political correctness, diversity and multi-culturalism, we still generalise, putting people into boxes and using labels.

Joe concluded a thought provoking performance with reference to Syrian refugees on boats trying to reach Europe’s mainland. A refugee was asked where he came from? The refugee replied ‘earth’…isn’t that where we all come from?  Not to be missed.

Written & Performed by: Joe Sellman-Leava
Director & Dramaturg: Katharina Reinthaller
Producer:  Michael Woodman/Worklight Theatre
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Booking link: http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/labels/#schedules
Booking until:  5-30 April 2016, then on national tour until 19 November 2016

About Brian Penn

Brian Penn
Civil Servant. Brian flirted with drama at school but artistic differences forced a painful separation. At least he knows what his motivation is. Now occupying a safe position in the audience he enjoys all kinds of theatre. He was bitten by the theatrical bug after watching a production of Tommy in his teens. Other passions include films, TV and classic rhythm and blues. He also finds time for quizzes, football and squash. A keen sports fan, his enthusiasm crashes to a halt whenever anyone mentions golf. A musical based on the life of Tiger Woods could be his greatest challenge.