Major Tom[author-post-rating] (3/5 Stars)

Major Tom is the true tale of Victoria Melody and her basset hound, Major Tom. Inspired by the struggles of her dog when entering it into competitions, Melody decided she should be undergoing the same scrutiny and so enrolled herself onto gym schemes, catwalk courses and beautification with a mind to enter beauty pageants. She entered Mrs Galaxy UK (having been too old to enter many other beauty pageants) and spent last year appearing as ‘Mrs Brighton’ – as often as she could, apparently, as every public appearance adds half a point onto your final pageant score.

Melody has a background in fine art, and makes ‘performance interventions’ and one-woman theatrical shows mainly around British pastimes. During her research for these, she “immerses herself into communities and becomes an active participant”, and beauty queen and champion dog-handler join a growing list of off-the-wall jobs, such as pigeon racer and northern soul dancer. Certainly it sounds like Melody and Major Tom have been through a bizarre kind of trial by fire in the name of art. From scalp-piercing hair extensions to massive weight gain and loss (in an attempt to win a gym competition), to Major Tom’s first experience of ball-cupping, this candid and refreshingly down-to-earth show lifts the lid on two cultures of competition that, while we may be aware of them, largely exist on the fringes of our lives or on late night reality TV shows. Presenting the two side by side throws up some stark similarities – there is a certain way both dogs and beauty queens must stand, walk and act, and there are rigorous requirements on the grooming front.

Melody’s delivery is easy and natural with the feel of a chat with a friend over a cuppa, or a flick through a gossip magazine. You can’t help but warm to her – and to Major Tom, whose demeanour and personality make him hilarious whether he does what he’s told or not. In going through the journey of transformation with Melody and Major Tom – inter-cut with film clips documenting the experience – and learning about just how much time, preparation and energy goes into both championship dog-handling and beauty pageantry, you get caught up in the struggle. You find joy in their small successes (coming fifth and not last!), while hearing of judges telling Melody she should save her money and buy another dog elicits cries of outrage from the audience.

While there are laughs, I would not strictly call this a comedy show, and those hoping to sit back and relax into a pre-conceived ‘theatre show’ model will be disappointed. But this is a light and engaging piece of art about a little-visited corner of British culture, packed with honesty and personality – and if you like to leave a theatre knowing something new, this could be the show for you.

Major Tom played at The Old Market as part of the Brighton Fringe. For more information, see the Brighton Fringe website.