The Evening Standard property pages inspired my work, says actress Amy Gwilliam

From a costume purchased in Paris to politics and property development , take a look at Amy Gwilliam's new project for VAULT Festival 2020. 

The Evening Standard property pages inspired my work, says actress Amy Gwilliam

Hi Amy! Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

Yes, of course. But I‘m going to use what my dear friend and fellow maker Richard Crawley wrote recently about me. It’s far less modest, I like it: “Amy is an alpha-woman and force to be reckoned with; an international purveyor of joy and a forensic expert in silliness. She is driven by a fervent and fabulous belief that human beings work best when they are allowed to be ridiculous.” 

I really am. (Richard is also a humanist celebrant and I shall ask him to administer my funeral one day. I adore him.)

Describe your Frankie Foxstone aka The Profit: Walking Tour in 3 words.

Playful. Preposterous. Political.

 What is the premise of this show and what inspired the work?

The premise of the show is to bring a bunch of humans together to do something really quite out of the ordinary. To look at something that affects us all profoundly - in this case the world of property development and so-called “progress” - in an unexpectedly playful way. We live in a society obsessed with both, and where I find something quite frightening, I also see the hilarity. I’m sure it’s a survival method, but I think it’s a healthy one. The show lightly explores our deep contradictions – and mocks, even celebrates them. It’s a perversely ritualistic experience, and cathartic too.

Country Life, the magazine, inspired the show. And the property pages of the Evening Standard newspaper. I thought the description of properties for sale was just ludicrous, and so I started to explore the world of property development and sales. It exposed the identity of capitalism very “frankly” indeed.

Tell us more about the character Frankie Foxstone and what the creative process is like when performing in character.

Frankie hails from a flea market in Paris where I bought this dress one day – sort of Margaret Thatcher meets David Bowie on a starship somewhere. I wore it and out came this voice. Staunchly posh, confident, with razor teeth and a rebel heart. Then when she got hold of those aforementioned property pages, suddenly a world formed around her.

ab237919aa52985359e720d04db630bd3558e38c.jpgThis was quite some years ago now, and each time I bring her out to play, she acquires a new bite. She’s also got a new outfit (Oxfam’s finest vintage). I’m sure since Trump came to power, her popularity has grown. What with Boris now, she’s all about “charisma”. She’s fearless, says the first thing that comes to mind, and doesn’t give a sh*t about consequences. It is what makes her so playful, and so dangerous. I have a love-hate relationship with her – wickedly fun to be, but leaves a sour taste.

 What impact do you hope Frankie Foxstone aka The Profit: Walking Tour will have on audiences?

I think a similar effect she has on me – that is, wickedly fun, but leaves a sour taste. She reveals how manipulated we can be by those who tell us how we should be living our lives. 

I love when audiences – perfect strangers at the beginning of the tour – head off for a pint together, and crunch into what the show opened up for them. It’s a show which exposes how separate we are all becoming, but actually brings us together. I like to think people are humoured by it, and are okay to look inside themselves a bit deeper.

Have any particular artists inspired or influenced this work?

Sacha Baron Cohen. Lucy Hopkins. My Mum (director of Spitting Image, Drop the Dead Donkey). Olivia Colman. Patti Smith. Tom Cruise in Magnolia. Marina Abramovic.

Did you face any major challenges during the project?c843360e8f3f9db52e6a7a597028359148b8e188.jpg

The show is site-specific and often takes place outdoors, so this brings multiple challenges, from weather and traffic, to defining the route and identifying the local politics and issues to fold into the script. It’s also what makes it so exciting, and unusual. 

Edinburgh Fringe was different to the VAULT. VAULT will be different to Adelaide. I have to write fast! And whilst there is a script (my producer heaves a sigh of relief), a big part of the show is ad lib, off the cuff, totally responsive to each new audience. On the whole, this is one of my greatest pleasures, but occasionally you’ll get a crowd (or one person) that is hard to manage. I’ll just say “Malcolm”, and leave it at that.

Tell us more about your work with Clowns Without Borders and Theatre for a Change.

Each a world unto their own, they both form a big part of my life - and deep source of my hope. With Clowns Without Borders, I perform clown shows and run workshops in places of humanitarian crisis. Over the last few years, I’ve been to refugee camps and communities in Greece, Turkey, Hungary and Bangladesh, and see how laughter really can heal. 

With Theatre for a Change, I have trained in a method of forum theatre – using theatre as a means to empower voices in vulnerable communities in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and the UK. 

Both organisations are united by their emphasis on the transformational act of play. How it connects us, and how it allows us to shape and imagine new ways of living in the world. I see how my own performance work is inspired by both. I feel lucky everyday that I have a voice that people listen to. It mustn’t be taken for granted.

What’s been the highlight of your arts career so far?

My highlight is that I am still doing what I love. Inventing it as I go along, as I meet new people and find new ways to tell stories. I wake up most days with a sense of real purpose, and see what the arts can do for our humanity. It’s not easy, goodness no, but it feels like the real highlight.

Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?

Give yourself space to be an absolute loon. My hunch is that some of our best work emerges when we’re not looking (possibly holding an invisible microphone, in just your knickers, a feather in your hair, lipstick on your cheeks). Then find people you can mess around with. 

Also, let yourself be affected by the world. Then write about it. And you in it. With all your tangled inconsistencies and vulnerabilities. A map begins to emerge – with the things that are important to you, and you have to find a way to communicate this with the world. 

Lastly, come and play with me! I run workshops and adore them as much as clowning around alone in my bedroom.

How can people find out more about yourself and your work?

I actually update my website, so that’s a good place – I’m also on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook.  


Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Formerly Assistant Editor, Sienna now studies History of Art at the University of Cambridge and loves to write about the intersection of politics, history and visual art. Sienna is author of the Creative Education and Instaviews series.

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