Labels, a one-man show put on by Worklight Theatre, features Joe Sellman-Levea as himself in a clever, funny exploration of the words we use to refer to things. It’s fresh from the Fringe and it shows, right down to the quirky concept, skeleton cast and awkward audience participation.
Things are kicked off with a cracking series of impressions of Katie Hopkins, Jeremy Clarkson, Cameron, Farage and of course Trump. Joe’s got a serious knack for voices and the thousand-voices bit sets the stage brilliantly, bringing themes of nationalism, immigration and political correctness right to the front of the audience’s mind. Despite this Labels is mostly a personal story, taking us back to Joe’s Devon upbringing, his struggles with his mixed heritage and his father’s remarkable India-Uganda-Cheltenham life story.
Labels at a previous performance in Bunker 1 at Pleasance Courtyard, 2015
As spins his tale Joe plasters himself with sticky labels, ranging from friend, new kid, son to Ugandan, he ain’t English and immigrant. It’s a powerful gimmick that really helps to reinforce the story Joe’s telling and reminds us that labels really do, ahem, stick.
It’s for the most part a funny show carried off by a very charismatic and relatable showman, which is not to say Labels is without its’ serious moments. Joe chronicles and laments the rise of the anti-PC movement, which he sees as a product of clowns such as Clarkson and Hopkins, and talks hypocrisy regarding illegal migrants – who are we to say who gets in and who drowns in the Mediterranean? It’s pretty potent stuff when set against such a personal background, and it’s one of the greatest strengths of the show that it’s able to tie the whole thing together.
One element not as finely tuned is the audience participation bit, where Joe invites someone to be the other half of an awkward tinder conversation- something I would call entirely forced. It might have given the mates of the volunteer something to giggle at but from where I was sitting it was just five minutes the show could do without. Something else Joe could lose is a lot of the self-depreciation in his humour – a few too many times he plays the “explain a bad joke” card, and it comes off as grating. We get it, you make bad puns. How about some good ones instead?
Well, I might be asking a bit much there.
Still, Labels is funny, thought provoking and endearingly intimate. Joe gives the audience a look into the struggles of those who happen not to “look English” and I left with a new appreciation of the endurance and courage it must take to put up with racial slurs, answer questions like “where are you from, from” and even abandon one’s family name. If you ever see Labels or any other show by Joe Sellman-Levea and/or Worklight Theatre on at the theatre, don’t hesitate to get yourself tickets.
For me, if I had to stick a Label on Labels: it would be a shiny gold one in the shape of a star.
Photo Credit: Worklight Theatre, Unity Theatre