Model Behaviour

Fri 3rd – Sat 11th August 2018


Katherine Knight

at 09:59 on 5th Aug 2018



Every time the modelling industry is shown on stage, it appears to be as a caricature of itself: narcissistic, hypocritica and dangerous; a cocktail of eating disorders, drugs, and exploitation. As such, it’s scarcely believable ‘Model Behaviour’, an original play written and starring Issy Knowles, is based on truth – which makes the entire play far more terrifying. The problem, at least as it appears initially, is that this is a story which has been told many times before. Therefore, charming and slightly cliched, the play truly comes into its own when it drives into much darker, frightening territory, uncomfortable though it is to watch.

Knowles’ character is lively and animated, easily commandeering a stage by herself, if not particularly likeable. Some skilled multi-roling allows her to inhabit a host of characters and situations with ease, most memorably a date with a particularly boring almost-auditor (which I, and I’m sure many other women, found to be uncannily familiar). A similar energy is applied to the protagonist, and her command of facial expression and movement is admirable. However, a number of jokes are made, some in poor taste, evidently to demonstrate that she’s a shallow individual. While some of these are funny, mostly due to skilled delivery (and tactical references to Love Island), it’s awkward to hear a joke made about plus size models in the first few minutes, by the protagonist with whom we are meant to empathise. Admittedly, it is difficult to portray a toxic environment solely through a character themselves entrenched in it, but it does make the first few scenes difficult to process.

It is in the last third of the performance when these light elements finally come together. The process is gradual; while I had assumed a dating subplot was only intended to add some romantic interest to proceedings, its conclusion opens up a more vulnerable side of Knowles’ character, commandeered with visible emotion and which the audience otherwise would have had no chance to see. This, importantly, sets the scene for the final sequence, which unfolds slowly, rhythmically and unstoppably to the pulse of a camera shutter – to give further details here would be to ruin the moment, which as it stands is genuinely chilling. There is a dark and vulnerable heart at the core of this story, and I admire Knowles for telling it. But while it is worth the wait, it may take some patience to get there.


Molly Stock-Duerdoth

at 10:04 on 5th Aug 2018



Model Behaviour – Issy Knowles’ one-woman show charting her experiences as a model – begins by inviting the audience into the position of a model at a casting. As we file in, the first in a series of disembodied voices requests, “don’t sit there”, and for a second we are made to feel the protagonist’s paranoia that she doesn’t belong.

Initially, the monologue uses humour to gloss over and justify the real pain caused by her experiences. Jokes such as “every 15-year-old girl should be told by a man three times her age that her flat chest is beautiful” are laughed off hysterically. Physical comedy and mime also distract from the damaging activities of taking cocaine or faking an orgasm for a man she slept with “just to fill the silence”. Knowles’ skill is in making genuinely funny comedy out of things which, on a second’s reflection, are actually quite disturbing. Gradually, as the protagonist becomes increasingly unhappy, the justifications and glossing become less convincing, and the humour turns to straightforward despair.

Some of the jokes seem a little out of place – an extended sequence about not revealing a period-stained skirt is entertaining but a bit disconnected from the rest of the plot – and not all are consistently funny, but the overall effect of dark irony is undiminished. Often, Knowles repeats sentences in a different tone, and stories which start as exhilarating become frightening. Her delight at a party that “everyone is here, everyone” turns into fear of being judged and overwhelmed only seconds later. The often uncomfortable audience immersion continues, and the intimacy of the venue is fully exploited: we are sometimes the protagonist’s friends, sometimes helpless bystanders, and sometimes predators. Knowles uses the same style of chairs as the audience and the stage lighting leaves the front row partially illuminated, but the protagonist remains immensely isolated.

The character herself is often irresponsible and even cruel, but the excellent thing about this show is that it makes the motivations for her behaviour perfectly clear. Presented with a life story beginning aged 12, we see the influences which skew her world view, and how dangerous it is to attach self-worth to success in modelling, or in anything really.

Model Behaviour is an excellent, entertaining, and unsettling tale of exploitation and the importance of getting out of something toxic while you can.


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