Believe what you will about love at first sight, but that’s apparently what happened when Brighton, England, artist Victoria Melody met a basset hound puppy she soon named Major Tom. He was twice the size of his littermates and the last one to find a home; she was in a committed relationship and wanted to see if she and her partner Mitch could handle the responsibilities of parenthood. But the two instantly clicked over their shared stubbornness, among other things. He not only found an owner in Victoria—he found a collaborator.
Melody and Tom’s epic stubbornness is now on stage—we said stubborn, not shy—in the show Major Tom, on now with World Stage for a limited run at the Enwave Theatre. (Major Tom does seem to prefer limited runs, sometimes refusing to walk even a few paces to get his favourite treat.) Melody’s stubborn streak comes out in her storytelling: in this one-woman, one-dog show, Melody explains how it was that she and Tom became immersed in the world of dog shows and beauty pageants, and persevered despite the odds stacked against them.
Major Tom has remarkably long ears, a charming gait, and an uncanny knack of spreading joy wherever he goes (Melody’s friends call him “walking Prozac”). So after years of watching him inspire love and attention in strangers and friends alike, Melody entered him in amateur local dog shows—where he consistently dominated every competition. But when they tried to make the leap into professional competitions, Melody was told to “save [her] money and buy another dog.” Feeling guilty for having subjected Tom to harsh scrutiny, she decided to see how she’d respond to such an experience and entered a U.K.-wide pageant. While she endeavoured to slim down and primp up for the big show, she and Tom continued their quest to compete in the prestigious 2013 Crufts dog show. Melody draws connections between these adventures, and wonders at her seemingly unaccommodating and inexplicable determination to succeed at both.
Setting a casual, personal tone, Melody and Tom greet the audience members as they file in. A note to other theatremakers: a surefire way to get them on your side is to have an adorable, long-eared canine sniff their knees as they grab a program. Watching Major Tom lie down on his white, fluffy bed (one of the few set pieces in the show), which took up most of the introduction, made us smile with the kind of intense, deep joy rarely inspired by another human being (sorry, fellow homo sapiens). Having Tom on stage might seem like a gimmick, but, as Melody says, he’ll howl if he’s apart from her. Their partnership is a crowd-pleaser, of course, but it’s also key to understanding their story.
There’s not much risk he’ll upstage his master, since does he little other than lie around and sleep. The stage is Melody’s, as she changes from her normal clothes, into her dog handler’s uniform, and eventually into her knockout evening-wear gown and takes us through the various stages of her story. Although Melody’s charm, humour, and lack of pretension do compensate for them, the narrative has some structural flaws: she spends a lot of time on the steps involved in getting Tom and herself ready for the big shows, but doesn’t really explore the reasons she pursued these goals so doggedly. When the time comes for a personal revelation about the beauty standards applied to women, men, and man’s best friend, we’re left wanting more.
However (and please forgive the cliché), what the show lacks in structure, it makes up for in heart. It provides a novel perspective on beauty pageants today, and you’ll leave feeling proud of being the odd one in the pack. Its flaws don’t overrule its charm. And after all, if there’s one thing we learned from Melody and Major Tom, it’s that you don’t need to be polished and prim to be perfect.