Last year when performing Follow Suit at Edinburgh Fringe, we at Silent Faces were lucky enough to share a venue with the lovely Joe Sellman-Leava. In last years blog we interviewed Worklight Theatre about their other show, Monster, which is also heading to VAULT Festival this January, but this time around we get to talk to him about his critically acclaimed show, Labels…
What drove you to make Labels?
In 2015 there was a lot of heated discussion about ethnicity, migration and displacement, but mostly from the same kinds of voices. I felt like that had been the case for some time, and was more and more frustrated by it, so I decided to finish a piece I’d started back in 2009, about why my family changed our surname from Patel to Sellman-Leava, and about the labels we all use for ourselves and each other.
Who is Labels for?
Everyone! Younger people. Older people. Mixed-race city-dwellers. White, rural villagers. Anyone who’s felt labelled at some stage in their life. Anyone who dishes labels out without a second thought. Everyone.
While the show is about some very specific experiences (mine, and my family’s), it’s really about all of us. We worked really hard to make it as universal as possible. Family, language, journeys - those are all human things, and a part of everyone’s lives.
What’s the most important thing that theatre should be/do/have?
It should have something to say. And I don’t necessarily mean it needs to be issue-based, end poverty or bring about world peace. But theatre’s a really unique medium because of its immediacy and liveness. It’s uniquely posed to provoke discussion and give people shared experiences they can't get elsewhere. So if it can embrace these strengths, and have something to say, then it’s doing its job.
What CURRENT news story would you like to make a show about?
The contempt for truth. That’s more of a trend than a singular story, but has been a major factor in many of our most urgent, continuing stories. A show about why feelings often carry more weight than facts, and why
conspiracy theories are so compelling to so many people.
What theatre ‘turn offs’ do you have?
Only really when there’s no heart in something. Even if a show’s execution doesn’t match up with its intention, usually the passion, hard work and creative talent behind it is still clear. And seeing (and making!) work that has flaws can be just as interesting - and teach you as much about the craft - as the things that blow you away. But if something lacks heart or purpose, then it’s going to show: regardless of its budget, venue or production values.
What was the last show that moved you to action?
Expat Underground - which is still in development, but one to watch - is all about being European in a suddenly uncertain and unwelcome Britain. It was a good reminder that in the ongoing Brexit farce, people’s lives are on hold or in limbo, and families are at risk of being torn apart.
What shows at VAULT are you looking forward to?
Unburied, as I’d like to know more about the world of horror. Eyecon, which is Georgie Morrell’s new show about sight loss. Great Again, (maybe a musical about Trump will make a little more sense than his presidency…), A Robot in Human Skin, as I’ve somehow missed that so far. Glitter Punch, which I couldn’t see in Edinburgh last year but which I heard was great. Same goes for Testosterone by Rhum and Clay, Me and My Bee and Cornermen. And Think of England is a fascinating, untold story about World War 2, so I’ll try and get to that again. Oh, and Silent Faces have a great show called Follow Suit!
You can see Labels at VAULT on 28th Jan at 14.45, and you can also see Joe’s other show Monster from 24-28th Jan at 19.15, with a matinee on the 27th at 14.45.
Photograph by Anna Bruce