Labels at Theatre Royal Stratford East
Theatre Royal Stratford East inaugurates its new black box theatre, located in the studio space of Gerry’s, with the Fringe award-winning Labels, a splendidly engaging solo act written and performed by Joe Sellman-Leava. The nearly four-week stint at TRSE marks the beginning of an extensive tour, with performances in the UK and US.
Relaying a number of autobiographical details and assuming several different personages, Sellman-Leava chronicles the formulation and experiences of his own biracial household in Britain. His family narrative is arranged amid material taken from the actual words of various politicians, which allows the show to also deal more broadly with themes of language, racism, prejudice and the glaring paucity of humanity in much of the current nationalistic discourse on immigration. Employing placards to indicate the speaker and year, the seamless presentation of quotes serves to highlight the fact that such racially charged statements and sentiment span across time and space.
Sellman-Leava is a magnificent performer, offering graciousness and sincerity but also a presence that commands full attention. His mastery of accents and extremely idiosyncratic speech patterns are spot on, however the show’s humour never resorts to mere caricature (except perhaps in Ed Miliband’s case). The play includes a number of fun moments of audience participation where the front row provides prime seats for those keen on interacting. The frequent use of sticker labels throughout effectively demonstrates the often arbitrary nature of naming, classification and categorisation in which people are consistently either subject or object.
Labels raises important questions that everybody should be asking and challenges its audience to re-evaluate the use and effect of one’s words as well as the propensity of language to both transmit ideology and be influenced by it. Sellman-Leava imparts very personal aspects of his life, but they are experiences with which many are able to identify, thus rendering the show and its treated concepts universal and accessible. Although the act hinges on the idea that nobody is invulnerable to labels, as labeller or labelled, the show ends on an extremely positive, optimistic note, pointing out that the fundamental arbitrariness of labels and signs is also exactly what allows them to be changed.
Labels is on at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 5th April until 30th April 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch writer/performer Joe Sellman-Leava perform some material and talk about the show here: