Hello everybody, I am fuming. I am so angry about the treatment of women in the modelling industry, and it’s all Model Behaviour’s fault. In some ways, this isn’t a delicate piece of theatre. The play opens to the uncomfortable spectacle of performer Issy Knowles – an ex model herself – clambering painstakingly onto the stage in a pair of precarious red heels. We know where this is going, and it’s nowhere good.
Under the cold light of a waiting room for a modelling casting, she expounds upon topics encompassing her love life, her noticeably competitive friendships within the industry, and even the politics of how to help homeless people. It becomes clear quite quickly that she isn’t a entirely likeable character. She’s quick to judge and swift to overstate her achievements to her friends, but it’s important to remember that she exists in a world in which to do any different would be suicide. All of her friends and relationships seem to be based on the business opportunities that they can provide, or on how they can make her feel better by comparison. This is where it starts to get a little slippery, as despite her transactional approach to relationships, she’s still perfectly willing to fake an orgasm and wait three hours for a date to arrive. It’s as though on the surface level she’s an ambitious professional, always with her eye on the next opportunity, but under this veneer there’s a worried girl who’s very out of her depth.
It’s also funny how quickly it becomes obvious that she really has nobody supporting her. Her spiel to us is interrupted by a phone call from her agent, checking that she’s adhering to what sounds like a dangerously rigorous ‘diet’ plan which seems restricted enough to leave anyone in serious physical danger. As the piece progresses, I start to feel, as I and many others have felt before, that these diets are essentially an act of violence. We’re told in a throwaway line that a fellow model collapsed and was taken away in an ambulance after her body fat dropped below four percent, way into the dangerously low category. At this point, how can forcing someone through that be anything but an act of violence?
But through all of this, our protagonist laughs. A whole parade of comments about her body, her weight, her behaviour and all brushed off, treated as though they’re nothing if not both normal and, probably, justifiable. They’re treated as a necessity, in turn leaving her self esteem to be taken as collateral damage in the battle for her professional success.
But where do we draw the line? What should be accepted, and what should we stand up against? Who gets to decide, and what if those around them disagree with them? There are dozens of layers to unpack here, but I feel that maybe the most important thing is that I left the theatre shaky and uncomfortable – and absolutely furious. Model Behaviour does its job, and it does it incredibly well.
Model Behaviour is playing until 16 March. For more information and tickets, visit the Pleasance Theatre website.