by Saira Viola
photos courtesy Alison Playford
Alison Playford is a rising British actor with a social conscience and an appetite for rebellion and revolution, but you won’t find her gracing the pages of Hello magazine or the gossip columns of the Daily Mail. You may, however, find her on a street in Gaza or dishing out food and supplies to the homeless in St. Paul’s in London. Gonzo Today gets an exclusive backstage pass to a star on the rise.
Saira Viola: As a graduate of the Arts Educational school in London and an accomplished theater and screen actor, you already have an impressive body of work, and have been fortunate enough to cherry pick your roles, most notably you appeared alongside Emma Thompson in the shocking film The Journey by Richard Jobson, which chronicles the harrowing experiences of a sex worker. As a female performer are you very conscious of the roles offered to you?
Alison Playford: Yes very much so.
SV: It was a very graphic, gritty film with powerful and disturbing scenes of sexual violence. It seemed to operate on two levels: as a grisly expose of the life of a sex worker and as a visceral abstraction – an installation. Do you think the naked brutality of the film was effective in delivering its message?
AP: First of all, we need to be very clear about the difference between consensual sex work and trafficking. The two operate on entirely different bases and conflating them causes problems for both groups. Sex workers are workers who are owed the same rights as other workers. People trafficked for sex are being tortured.
Those films about sex trafficking were made quite a few years ago, and at the time they were made I was working with film makers and a charity, and not in contact with grassroots groups connected to the issues involved. I now have a bit more knowledge gained from sex-workers rights groups, and know that there is tension created by the way trafficking is discussed in the media for sex workers who are emancipating themselves via their own organising. There is a disempowering predominance of depictions of violence against women associated with the sex trade and a lack of depiction of women’s agency. Also anti-trafficking legislation is often constructed in such a way as to create further problems for sex-workers and not a way of solving trafficking issues. These violent depictions can be seen as unhelpful. The people who made them are wonderful people with great intentions, but these are the type of issues that you will come against when grassroots movements and wider political contexts are not prioritized in political projects. Also, we need to focus on female writers and directors talking about problems that affect women.
SV: Yes, Emma Thompson and Richard Ashcroft from The Verve were involved in the production of the film. Do you think artists have an obligation to lend their talent to special causes?
AP: I think everyone on this earth has a duty to deepen their understanding of the realities faced by themselves and others and to take part in unpicking the negative social constructs that limit our freedom and the ability to connect with one another.
SV: Apart from film and theatre work that carries a strong social message you have also travelled to Gaza and witnessed first hand the plight of the people of Palestine. Can you explain a little about that experience and what your feelings are about the current state of play and rising tensions?
AP: It is a privilege to travel to parts of the world which have been so badly damaged by British foreign policy and still be welcomed by the people there who are struggling to resist ongoing siege and occupation backed and paid for by the UK and U.S. In the UK we need to take direct action against our government and the weapons companies the government pays to provide murderous devices for attacking Palestinian civilians. A group who recently occupied the Elbit factory which supplies weapons to Israel, has just had their case thrown out of court and all charges dropped. More and more this is the case, that courts find that activists should not be punished for this type of action. It is a green light to go ahead and put our bodies in the way of the export of killing machines from this country. Regarding the current tensions, the situation in Palestine has deteriorated beyond our worst nightmares. It is a disgrace to the whole world that we have made Palestinians fight for freedom for so long and suffer so much. We must back the call from the Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions that will end the Israeli apartheid with utmost urgency.
SV: You also participated in The Occupy London Camp housed at St Paul’s. What made you decide to get off the side lines and immerse yourself in this global grassroots movement?
AP: Occupy is a horizontal movement, working to hear and support everybody equally. Occupy at St Paul’s was a great moment. But we need to develop consensus practice so that as many people as possible know how to work autonomously in political environments. This means how do we work together equally and fairly so that everyone is heard and has power? This is not a skill that political movements in general yet competently operate with.
SV: What were your lasting impressions of being at the Occupy site and do you see any ray of hope for those suffering from Dickensian poverty in Britain and social hardship?
AP: The action group Disabled People Against Cuts have lead the charge against the current despicable government. The future lies with this group and others wherein we are taking our rights and forcing society to recognise us and our humanity.”
SV: As a woman in showbiz with a growing fan base, in light of the ongoing conversation about the way the media represents women, have you ever encountered sexism within the industry?
AP: The industry is built on sexism, objectification of women, commercializing women’s bodies, etc. Not to mention promoting white supremacy, ableist values and consumerism. That’s not to say there aren’t many wonderful people working within it who are challenging these values, for instance the LGBTQ theatre and film network Team Angelica with whom I have been lucky to be associated.
SV: How do you feel about the growth of tabloid values in society and tabloid celebrities?
AP: Tabloid celebrities are victims of capitalism. Tabloids are arse wipe.
SV: Recently you travelled to refugee camps in Calais, home to hundreds of migrants stranded on the edge of nowhere. Can you tell us what the conditions are like, how people are coping and what morale is like in the camps?
AP: The camp at Calais has swollen from only a few hundred to more than seven thousand over the last year. Conditions are dire. Despite this people there are a delight to meet, courteous and kind beyond all reasonable expectations. We need to let all the people there into the UK. They have fled their countries due to our and other Western government’s war-mongering, climate abuse and financial abuse. The least we can do is let them in.
SV: So, what’s a typical day like for Alison Playford?
AP: I don’t really have a “typical” day. I do different stuff all the time. I work in the community, I make art, I look after my family, I go on political actions. Having to do one job or have one career is capitalist bullshit. Life must needs be a mixture of pleasure, service, spiritual work, political work, and creativity. Obviously the way in which society is constructed is an attempt to make this kind of autonomy impossible, but we can fight that. Our differing levels of privilege dictate how many barriers we face.
As a white, university educated, cis woman I have not been obstructed in ways that others have.
SV: You’ve spoken about your need to meditate and your belief in consciousness. Can you sum up in a few sentences what that embraces and why it’s an integral part of your life?
AP: I grew up surrounded by people who were struggling with their mental health. I also have disabilities relating to mental health. I need practice to be well. It is also teaches me about my deepest nature as pure love.
SV: Finally, what are your plans for the future and do you have any advice for any aspiring thespians?
AP: Advice to thespians – do your own work. Don’t hang out for the industry to throw you scraps.
Plans for the future – we live in the greatest time of global uprisings and revolution in history, Continue to learn and grow and help out with it in any ways possible.