Modest – Content Notes

Age guidance: 14+

Contains haze, flashing lights and loud music.

Includes strong language, misogyny, detailed description of combat injuries, trans themes and body dysmorphia.

Plot summary

We want to ensure that audience members can make an informed decision about whether our work is suitable for themselves. The summary below includes spoilers but may be useful to those who prefer to know the subjects touched upon in the show.

The show is composed of multiple short scenes and songs, with the majority of performers multi-rolling, including as drag kings in the role of the male Royal Academicians (RAs).

While the audience are taking the seats before the beginning, some of the RAs interact with the audience, including making sketches.

The show starts when the RAs introduce themselves and marvel at their own artistic talent, while disparaging women.

Elizabeth then enters, taking up space, before speaking with her sister, Alice, about her confidence in exhibiting work at the Royal Academy. Alice, who is trans, reveals that she is concerned about the appearance of facial hair, but Elizabeth affirms her gender identity.

Elizabeth then heads to the Academy for Varnishing Day, where painters prepare their pictures for exhibition. Elizabeth first encounters astonishment that she is a woman, before four RAs debate the value of exhibiting work by a woman.

Elizabeth and Alice discuss Elizabeth’s prospects of being elected to the Academy. In the gallery, Elizabeth is admiring her painting when RA One non-consensually nips her waist to start a conversation praising her talent.

A young, non-binary, working class fan of Elizabeth – Bessie – describes the painting Roll Call, including tired and dying soldiers. They also describe their own artistic work, including a sketch of a dead dog. Queen Victoria then barges on stage and proclaims her intention to buy the painting.

Elizabeth, Alice and their friends discuss what it means for other women for Elizabeth to be exhibited in the Academy and whether she should advocate for her friends’ work.

The RAs further discuss the prospect of Elizabeth’s election and how exhibiting her work is far enough. At the gallery, where Elizabeth is watching the crowds who have turned out to see Roll Call, RA One tries to discourage Elizabeth from seeking public adoration.

Bessie returns to stage to further describe the painting and the affection they feel for one of the injured soldiers depicted in it. Alice and her friend Frances enter while Elizabeth is painting a new picture and discuss compromising personal ethics in pursuit of artistic success.

A year later the four RAs again discuss Elizabeth’s possible election as they anticipate her submitting another painting to exhibit. Elizabeth then reveals her new painting to her friends, of soldiers in the Crimean War, including one who has been shot in the stomach.

At the gallery, Elizabeth learns her new painting will be displayed in the less prestigious Lecture Room, also known as the Black Hole. She then speaks with a member of the hanging committee, who says they put the picture there for “her protection”, which Elizabeth sees straight through. The other RAs then privately patronise her about the placement.

Elizabeth and Alice are getting drunk on champagne, when Alice accuses Elizabeth of being selfish and not standing up for other women, given her new profile.


Queen Victoria sees Elizabeth’s new work and says that she should have kept her head down, like she does.

Elizabeth apologies to Alice, who encourages her to fight. The RAs then discuss how Elizabeth will not be submitting another painting the following year and accuse her of disrespect, while also congratulating themselves on having gotten rid of her.

Three years later, the RAs question her whereabouts through a lip sync song. An RA then visits Elizabeth at home, asking her to submit another painting and offers to nominate her for election. Meanwhile Queen Victoria further reflects on how Elizabeth could encourage change.

Bessie speaks of two new paintings that Elizabeth has submitted and speaks of how they wish to follow in her footsteps. The RAs then speak about Elizabeth and what it would mean for them and for women if they elected her, before going to vote, which she loses. The RAs congratulate themselves on a job well done and Bessie mourns what it means for Elizabeth to lose.

Elizabeth, Alice and their friends share their anger and talk about what happens next. As Elizabeth gives up, they decide to burn it all down.

Last updated: 19 May 2023, following a dress rehearsal

If you have any questions about this production, please don’t hesitate to contact our audience development manager, Jamie Potter.