Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Major Tom is the story of how an average 34-year-old became a beauty queen and how her unruly pet basset hound, Major Tom, became a championship show dog. Major Tom and Victoria increasingly immerse themselves in the obsessive and confusing realm of personal scrutiny as they participate as genuine contestants, determined to win. Victoria, accompanied on stage by documentary film footage and her dog, tells this true story. It explores the British fascination with celebrity, beauty and winning.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is often compared to a cattle-market. Thousands of events compete for audiences and exposure, a battle bitterly fought in the rain on cobblestones through flyering and fly-posting. At the beginning of the Fringe, the participants line up and peddle their wares in pitches to the assembled media. Then they perform every day, worrying that they will be judged and found lacking.
Victoria Melody is a live-artist and she has chosen to bring her show Major Tom – an exploration of the world of dog shows and beauty pageants – to this most famous theatrical catwalk. Melody describes herself as an anthropologist, seeking to become those she studies and finding the political and ritual elements in activities that seem banal or domestic.
Major Tom is her basset-hound – an amiable co-star who enjoys greeting the audience and then promptly falls asleep on his onstage bed. Major Tom is particularly engaging, and this canine element creates a relaxed living-room atmosphere in the cosy lecture theatre at Summerhall.
Melody has triumphed in creating that elusive thing – a live art multimedia presentation which doesn’t feel like it is lacking in ‘liveness’. While a large percentage of the content is moments from the journey she and Major Tom have made together captured on film, her warm and engaging persona keeps you fully engaged and entertained. The whole piece is beautifully underpinned by the music of David Bowie (of course).
Major Tom is an incredibly smart and witty production. Don’t be put off if you haven’t seen much live art before; this show is just as funny and likeable as a stand-up and just as moving and intelligent as a piece of theatre.
Both performers are unlikely competitors in the arenas that Melody has chosen. Major Tom is so lethargic throughout that the footage of his trotting around dog rings seems implausible and his low breeding raised eyebrows at the competitions. Victoria Melody had to lock away her feminist sense to compete. However, she is a true anthropologist, and never portrays her new beauty friends as stupid or fake. In fact, she admits to becoming vain and competive.
The connection that Melody creates with her audience is so strong that by the end of the piece, you want her to win the crown with the irrational urgency of a parent.
Melody deserves acclaim simply for the life-changing extremes she went to in order to develop the piece. From her fluctuating weight on the pursuit of a beauty queen aesthetic to the failures and snubs at the dog shows, Melody has clearly flung herself head first into her art.
After the garish costumes and tottering high-heels, it’s a relief when Melody re-emerges in her ‘normal’ clothes, relaxed and charming to bid us goodbye. A total joy to watch and an inspiring piece of art.