BWW Review: ADELAIDE FRINGE 2016: LABELS Points Out The Stupidity Of The Us/Them Divide
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Wednesday 10th February 2016
This production, winner of The Holden Street Theatres' Edinburgh Award 2015, is presented by that company in association with Worklight Theatre Company UK. It was also listed in the top 20 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and won the Scotsman Fringe First Award for 2015.
Humans like to categorise, to compartmentalise, to put Labels on everything and everybody. Writer, performer and co-producer (with Michael Woodman), Joe Sellman-Leava, looks at, and makes an analysis of the labels that have been applied to him and his parents from before he was born, and questions the validity of many of them, suggesting that they are often more damaging than useful, as well as divisive and abusive.
He enters with a trunk, both containing and covered in labels which, with the occasional prop, become a central part of his performance. Some labels are obvious, such as our names, our jobs, and other things that we do outside of work. One might be Fred, a baker, who is a long distance runner. These sort of labels are relatively innocuous, and nobody would really mind too much in being recognised in that way. Physical labels can be problematic, however, as tall, short, fat, skinny, and such might be accurately descriptive, but cause pain to the person labelled.
For Joe Sellman-Leava the question "Where are you from?" is where the worst of the labels begin. Where he was born, or where he currently lives, are not the answers that people are seeking. They are probing into his mixed heritage, the racial backgrounds of his family. Ludicrously, of course, is that it has been shown that all human life began in one place and that we are, in fact, all one. Being born in England was not sufficient, for some people, to make him English. Racial prejudice and stereotyping is still rearing its ugly head, and right wing governments are reinforcing the problem, using the plight of refugees as a way to divide and conquer.
Children can be extremely cruel, finding their name calling and bullying funny, without the slightest idea of the hurt that they are doing to their victims. Not having the right sounding name can mean early elimination when job hunting. There is a myriad of ways in which prejudice and discrimination is manifested.
Joe Sellman-Leava begins and ends with quoting some of the most hideously racist rants from a wide range of equally hideous people including, naturally, Enoch Powell, the dictator, Idi Amin, the very worrying Donald Trump, the outspoken Jeremy Clarkson, and not forgetting our very own far right-wing, Christian extremist, Tony Abbott, renowned for his invocation of God in insisting that it is that being's plan that there is a place for everybody, and that it is not everybody's place to come to Australia.
Between those two frightening bookends, Joe Sellman-Leava makes us laugh, makes us angry, and makes us very glad to have met him, albeit far too briefly. We meet his parents and others who he and they encountered over the years, with their silly outlooks, all through his ability to quickly switch between characters. He also does a fine job of providing the voices for those whose lunatic ideas open and close the performance. This is a captivating and enlightening production, superbly performed by Sellman-Leava. It is easy to see why he has won awards for this powerful and important production, and you should add this to your wish list, if it is not already there.