Holden Street Theatres – The Studio, Thu 11 Feb
Joe Sellman-Leava’s family changed their name to escape the tyranny of a well-known surname from the sub-continent. The negative consequences of such a label were considerable in the UK amid the lingering resentment of the ‘Paki invasion’.
There is a cultural context to this work that is very UK specific, and that may make it difficult for it to resonate with Australian audiences even though many of the issues we face are the same. That said, impersonations of British public figures (Enoch Powell, David Cameron, Jeremy Clarkson) commenting on migration present some of the shows finest moments.
Joe tells the story of racism and stereotyping through his own family’s struggle to feel at home in Britain against the backdrop of political debate about migration. With a suitcase full of treasures he tries to unravel the hurt and pain caused by a lifetime of negative labels.
He raises important issues, and Labels is entertaining enough but for me it just didn’t hit home with the required punch. Maybe it is the change of cultural context. Maybe it’s because Joe is too nice; just too tolerant of his lot in life rather than being outraged. He seems annoyed and irritated but not indignant. Joe pleads throughout that despite his skin colour, despite his surname, he is simply British, and ironically he may have internalised the British take it on the chin attitude more than he realises.
What this story does flag, sadly, is that if someone with Joe’s skin colour has had to endure these injustices, imagine what it’s like for someone who’s black.
Labels needs to be taken on the road to schools and workplaces where it can be heard by those who need to hear stories like this.
Labels By Joe Sellman-Leava continues at Holden Street Theatres – The Studio, at various times, until Sat 13 Mar.
Book at FringeTIX on 1300 621 255 or adelaidefringe.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.