Labels @ Liverpool Unity Theatre


Joe Sellman-Leava in Labels. Photo Credit: Ben Borley

Currently on tour on the back of its success at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe, Worklight Theatre’s thought-provoking one-man play, written and performed by Joe Sellman-Leava, explores issues of human behaviour and racism towards multi-racial people by analysing the power that words can have when they are used to identify different groups of people.

Being a man of mixed heritage himself, Joe knows only too well how hurtful some terms can be when they are used to describe a person with a universal background, and so he utilises some of his own personal experiences to highlight certain situations that someone like him is likely to face.

As he enters from the back of the auditorium, he is carrying a suitcase covered in stickers, each of which has a different word written on it, such as friend or enemy. He proceeds to hand these out amongst the audience, whilst talking about how we carelessly put labels to classify people without even thinking about what effect it will have on them or how upsetting they might be to the individual.

Next he mimics some of the celebrities or politicians, who have had something to say about immigration, such as Katie Hopkins, David Cameron and Theresa May, while holding up cards with their names on them to make it clear as to who is speaking, and then he tells us about his own diverse cultural background, recalling situations in his life where he has felt ill at ease by names that people have used to describe him, both with and without his knowledge.

Throughout the play, he constantly sticks labels on himself to emphasise the power of certain words and expressions that have been used to define him over the years. This was very effective as they made the audience realise that sometimes when these terms are used, they can be detrimental to an individual’s psyche.

It is a light-hearted piece that is performed in a relaxed manner, but it also holds a very powerful message. Not only does it point out the power of words used to describe mixed race people, it also highlights that things that are said to them, or said about them behind their back, that can also be tactless even if they were not intended to be.

Although this show is based on the playwright’s own a personal story, it focuses on issues that relate to everyone from a multicultural background and challenges the audience to think about their behaviour towards those people of mixed race in society.

It’s a fascinating, brilliantly constructed, and well-written piece, which for me exposed the fact that I may not have always been as mindful as I thought on such matters, even though I consider myself not to be a racist.