“A dynamic, captivating winner of a show.”
It is rare a show can conjure so many forms of fascination and disbelief, yet still be so funny. Just some of the raw reactions one might experience during Issy Knowles’ one-woman show Model Behaviour may include revulsion, shock, disgust, and most of all, genuine entertainment. Knowles, herself a former model, takes the audience on a no-holds-barred tour down the rabbit hole of the London modelling industry, which, needless to say, involves some disturbing body expectations, incisive judgement, and dubious morality. Yet Knowles proves to be so much more than simply a guide speaking from experience; she embodies her character with a devil-may-care whistleblower’s confidence, who has seen the mortifying darkness of that life and is miraculously, thankfully, strong enough to laugh about it. With ambitious direction from Rachael Head, and a fiery, impressive script by Knowles herself, their new company Marked Productions has a dynamic, captivating winner of a show on their hands.
Model Behaviour begins with Knowles’ protagonist entering a suspiciously empty casting room, waiting for another shoot to begin, and from there, she walks the audience through how she came to be there, why that shoot in particular is so important, and the highs and lows of being involved in such a world. Knowles is excellent in her role; she manages to balance deep sweetness, nimble humour, and some strikingly merciless quips as she weaves through anecdotes, impersonations and witty insights with ease and well-measured verve. Knowles finds the funniest moments when she slows down, however, whether to simulate a particularly uncomfortable dating experience or re-live a brutally awkward moment between her and a homeless man she tries (and amusingly fails) to be of some assistance to. The humour is, in parts, so bleak (see: “It was the type of party where they served beautiful tiny canapés for everyone to throw up later”) that I would not blame those who might find it too much.
For the production does indeed ‘go there’ in terms of interpersonal, misogynistic abuse in the industry. A particularly nasty sequence towards the end is fascinatingly well-crafted; not only for the unsettling progression of the abusive events themselves, which at a certain point every audience member knows is going towards a terrible development, but also for its effect on the rest of the journey. The show therefore does its job very well, offering both an insight and a stark condemnation regarding the possibilities — both positive, negative and ambiguous — of the fashion industry.
With some fine-tuning, including perhaps a slight shortening of the elements relating to dating life and some more time about the mechanics of the industry, Model Behaviour could be a true standout in fashion-industry storytelling. Here’s hoping Knowles continues to share her voice; I for one would be happy to see whatever she creates next.
Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 11 August)