Review: Labels (Theatre Royal Stratford East – Studio) JohnnyFox April 9, 2016 Comedy, Reviews, Theatre At the car wash today and even though it was quiet and they wanted to chat, I avoided saying ‘where are you from’ to the five guys lavishing ten minutes’ soapy attention on my bodywork. According to Joe Sellman-Leava whose monologue Labels just opened the handy new studio space at Theatre Royal Stratford East, it’s racist. Although the day before, maybe I had done. My house guest Dagmar, who is ‘from’ Waterford in Ireland but also ‘from’ Czech Republic arrived with her newish husband. Hassan is also ‘from’ Waterford but volunteered his Pakistani heritage and discussed it as freely as I confess I’m ‘from’ Manchester but haven’t lived there since I was seven. It’s unfortunate such cultural exchanges have become badged. Twenty-something, ‘nineties child’ Sellman-Leava, born Patel before his parents revised it to protect him from the baiting that came with a ‘sterotypical’ Asian name, suffered from such tauntings, and worse, as a differently-tanned boy growing up in the Cotswolds. Unlike Meera Syal’s much-loved Anita and Me about a teenage girl from the only Punjabi family in a West Midlands mining village which enjoyed success recently at Stratford and which embraces and reclaims the word ‘Paki’, he shrinks from it – placing it apart from the other labels readily applied to him and stickered on to his t-shirt. He’s a natural, relaxed storyteller, and an adept mimic: in his catalogue of inflammatory remarks from the mouths of celebrities and politicians, his Ed Miliband and Jeremy Clarkson are equally good, but the content doesn’t examine why such people made the statements they have: sneering at Katie Hopkins is really too soft a target for what seems a much more thoughtful concept. He has been touring this routine since winning a Fringe First award in 2015 and although tightened and directed by dramaturg Katharina Reinthaller, it retains the feel of an Edinburgh stand-up hour as he unpacks props from a battered suitcase. Sellman-Leava invites an audience member to play the ‘other’ part in a Tinder message exchange and, when someone asks ‘male or female’ almost lands himself with another label which makes you wonder why he didn’t touch on the presumption of sexuality as well as the presumption of heritage. But the Tinder sketch is smartly funny, and perhaps the most disturbing sequence as he proves that the internet age rather than encouraging enlightenment has opened further opportunities for hasty judgment, casual racism and self-defeating prejudice. Funny, as far as it goes.