Labels Joe Sellman-Leava The Wardrobe Theatre Bristol Review

Joe Sellman-Leava
Directed by Katharina Reinthaller
The Wardrobe Theatre
24/01/2020 at 19.30pm

“Where are you from from.” It takes a warm and engaging performer to entertain, amuse and horrify an audience in equal measure, with true stories of his experienced racism growing up in the UK.

Joe Sellman-Leava uses storytelling and comedy woven together with offensive speeches and soundbites on race and immigration from people including Katie Hopkins, David Cameron, Nigel Farage, Jeremy Clarkson, Enoch Powell and Nick Griffin, coming full circle from the Rivers of Blood of the sixties through to desperate asylum seekers in dinghies and the move towards a points based immigration system.

He takes us on his own personal journey, one that moves from small villages in Devon to Cheltenham, University, London. How his parents met, racial abuse in the street, bullying at school, Tinder even.

From labelling glass jars in a newly constructed spice rack and on to how his family came by its unique surname, the show is told through a series of labels, literal labels, which he sticks to his own body as well as sharing with audience members. The labels on his front misguided opinions. Unconscious bias. The label behind his back apparently didn’t die out in the eighties.

Joe is a funny, genuinely likeable person to whom the packed audience immediately warms. It’s jarring to hear his experiences, painful at times – sometimes told through physical performance, sometimes through anecdotes. All the time he opens his case, closes his case, a transient person always on the move and never settled. Never quite belonging anywhere except at home.

There’s a strong sense of love and family at the heart of his story and by the end of the show we feel like we might know them a little. The grocery selling/car salesman father that he is so proud of. The mother with a love for the original Poldark. It feels that despite the labels, the racism and the hate, love does conquer, a family moving forward with a new name. A new label – a new future.

This was a truly beautiful piece of theatre. Something you want every secondary school child to see because the UK at the moment is a worrying place.

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