A basset hound greets the audience at the entrance to the Cherry Lane theatre with his owner Victoria Melody before each performance of Major Tom. The dog is real and he is the eponymous co-star of Major Tom, a one woman, one dog show of delightful eccentricity. The old adage that you should never act with animals seems to be turned on its head here as Major Tom – the dog – sanguinely settles into a beanbag and largely ignores the antics unfolding on stage. The most strenuous moment in the show, for the hound, is when he has to clamber up some steps to make his way to the stage. Stardom apparently comes easily to this dog.
Not that he has much choice. But luckily for us, Victoria Melody is ready for anything and has thrown herself into life as performance art. Her piece here is based on several years of striving not only to get her dog a coveted spot in Britain’s premiere dog show “Crufts” but also on her own efforts to become a mature beauty queen in the Mrs United Kingdom pageant. She only took up beauty pageants in order to experience the same level of intense scrutiny meted out on her pooch on the dog show circuit.
Ms Melody’s stage persona is apparently her real self but one does wonder if the person who wrote this droll play is as much of a space cadet as her stage presence. I am tempted to coin the phrase that she appears to be several puppies short of a full litter. She comes over as an innocent abroad in the wicked world of dog shows and beauty pageants. She sticks to a deadpan delivery throughout the very funny script whether she is describing her efforts to get her basset hound to breed or her own determination to gain weight over Christmas to increase her odds of winning a weight loss competition.
The program notes explain that Ms Melody has a background in fine arts and her shows are all based on her immersion into particular communities. The basset hound world turns out to be fertile ground for some hilarious insights. While Major Tom seems unimpressed by being on stage, Ms Melody on the other hand is dying to tell the audience every detail of her humiliation at the hands of snobby dog show or catty beauty pageant judges. She illustrates her monologue with a series of “home videos” showing her with Major Tom in action projected on a screen behind her. We also see her appearing in all manner of kitsch outfits in different sections of the beauty pageant. A humorous highpoint comes when Major Tom reads her beauty pageant acceptance letter in a plumy British accent – you’ll have to see the play to find out whether he really is a speaking dog.
Coaxing Major Tom to participate in the play is a central part of the comedy here. The dog is remarkably placid and never lets his hangdog expression slip. As such he becomes the straight man to Ms Melody’s oddball. And a more doggedly determined double act is hard to imagine. Dog lovers will adore this show and those who are indifferent to our four legged friends will be just as charmed.