Joe Sellman-Leava’s story stretches from his grandfather’s migration across the sea to his own travels across the UK, from school to university to life in London. His gentle family recollections contrast sharply with the relentless racist taunts he experiences at school and on the streets of his community – glimpses of the pain that comes when others force us into a box of their own choosing.
The essence of this solo performance originated in 2009 during a racism and equality workshop, then it was further developed in 2015, going on to win awards and acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.
This Australian season’s timing is serendipitous, as anti-immigration rhetoric currently dominates our media. Sadly, it’s nothing new.
Sellman-Leava (an excellent mimic) gives voice to the politicians and TV personalities whose bigoted braying has used fear as a tool to manipulate over too many years. He gets the message across elegantly, using a series of cue cards and sticky name tags to reinforce key words and bring us back to the central themes.
There are questions, all familiar. When does our childish curiosity turn into something darker? What makes us lose sight of the basic humanity of our fellow man? One thing is certain – our use of labels alters our behaviour. What we say changes what we do.
In sharing the sacrifices made by his father and mother in their attempts to make the best life for their family, Sellman-Leava ponders the difference between his own experience and that of the hundreds of thousands of “illegal immigrants” desperately trying to reach the shore, any shore, where they will be welcomed to a new home. They all have stories and memories, too.
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Labels is a simply told, very personal invitation to life as “other”, and an insight into the lasting legacy of prejudice. It opens a conversation about the way the words we use can hurt or help. We all have a story. If we can learn to listen to each other then the world will surely be a better place.
**** four stars
Labels, by Joe Sellman-Leava, is being presented at Holden Street Theatres (The Studio) until March 13 as part of the Adelaide Fringe.
Labels is one of InDaily’s 2016 Adelaide Fringe picks – read more here.
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