Caro Meets Comedy Interview

Victoria Melody: Major Tom

By | Published on Thursday 26 June 2014

We first heard of Victoria Melody’s intriguing show ‘Major Tom’ at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where it garnered no small amount of critical acclaim. It’s about Melody’s participation in beauty pageants, and her dog Major Tom’s participation in dog shows, and casts a critical eye over these parallel worlds.

Major Tom

The show has been touring the UK over the last twelve months, and next week heads to the Soho Theatre for a five night run. I booked in a quick chat to find out more about the show, and Melody’s motivation for exploring these particular themes.

CM: The show is about how you spent a year combining attendance at dog shows with becoming a beauty queen. What on earth inspired you to do this?
VM: For ‘Major Tom’ I immersed myself into the worlds of championship dog show handling and beauty pageantry. I became an active participant and a physical embodiment of the people I was hanging around with in order to take part in their rituals as research for my work. Rather than recording, documenting and commenting on Britain’s clubs and tribes, I actively participate by becoming a member and metamorphasising myself in the process.

The idea for ‘Major Tom’ originally started when I got a dog and was instantly given membership to an exclusive members only club of basset hound owners. Dog owners, especially the obsessive ones that participate in dog shows, were a tribe that fascinated me, and I wanted to make work about them. I was driving back from a dog show after Major Tom (my basset hound) had just come last and the judge told me I should buy a new dog. I was annoyed because Major’s personality wasn’t taken into consideration; it was purely about him measuring up to a breed standard, anything unique about him was seen as a flaw, an imperfection that lost him points. It didn’t count that he is so absurd and loving that he has earned the name “walking Prozac” from my friends because he makes everybody happy.

It was on that journey home from the dog show that I came up with the idea to enter beauty pageants. That was the moment when the whole project made sense. The show manifesto wrote itself – it had gone from a show about in-group behaviour and Little England to a show more about the beauty myth and its oppressive function.

CM: What is it like to be a beauty pageant participant? Did you feel exposed or vulnerable at all?
VM: The competitive beauty world is not a scene I have ever had the desire to be involved in; I certainly never envisioned that one day I would actively compete in an attempt to become Mrs UK. In my youth I was a Goth and did everything to avoid the gaze. I would have laughed in your face if you told me that in my mid-thirties I would wear a swimsuit on stage in front of a panel of judges.

Obviously I enjoyed having a team of specialists fussing around me with the sole purpose of making me look good. But I started to lose my identity, I didn’t look like me any more and a strict diet/exercise/beauty regime meant that I rarely socialised. One particular time sticks out – when I had spent 4 + hours getting ready for Brighton’s gay pride parade. I was participating in the parade as Mrs Brighton (my beauty queen title). Mitch (husband) was waiting for me, after his patience had waned – he looked at me with my big fake tanned, made up face and huge bleached blonde hair and shouted, “This isn’t you!” But that was the point.

CM: What’s your opinion of beauty pageants? Obviously they objectify, but do you personally see this as a problem?
VM: Participating in beauty pageants was an extreme way of experimenting to see how closely I could get to a universal physical ideal. There’s been reams written on beauty being an ugly business that makes billions out of women’s insecurities. It’s in the media’s interest to promote images of tall, skinny, young homogenised stereotypes to make normal women and men feel insecure in them selves so that we will buy into the diet, cosmetics and cosmetic surgery industries. Throughout the preparation for the beauty pageant, I became a ‘project’ for many people, including plastic surgeons and hairdressers. The show proves that physical beauty is a currency system and I was being sold the skills and products that would enable me to become the ‘ideal’ me.

But I created Major Tom to be purposely ambiguous. The audience is left to do their own thinking. The only criticism is of myself in other people’s worlds. Of course I have opinions, I have strong ones or else I wouldn’t be making the work that I do. But I would rather let the work speak for itself. In the shows I use humour as a tool to get to those difficult and taboo places. I like this quote from Rosemary Wagg of Exeunt magazine: “Major Tom proves something I had always suspected: that the best politics come heavily coated in humour and everything is better if a dog is involved.”

CM: How easy is it to perform with a dog (drags out old chestnut about working with children and animals)? Is he well behaved on stage?
VM: Major Tom does exactly as he pleases on stage, mainly sabotaging the punch lines of my stories by looking at the audience and yawning or walking off stage. He is very comedic and every performance is different because you never know what he’s going to do.

CM: Has all the fame gone to Major Tom’s head?
VM: He wags his tail when he hears applause, and he thinks it’s for him, even if it’s coming from the radio.

CM: How is touring, and do you miss being at home? How does Major Tom cope with all the travelling?
VM: The type of touring I do is not extensive. I don’t go off somewhere for weeks on end. I will go off for a few days and then come home. I choose this type of touring so that I won’t be away from home for long.

Major Tom is mellow, he sleeps 18 hours of the day, so he’s fine with the travelling and he will sleep anywhere. Advice for people thinking about getting a dog: when they are puppies, expose them to everything – men with beards, train travel, horses, etc – and then they won’t be afraid when they are older. We exposed him to most things but we forgot about skate boards, so he chases them; I think they are his version of an urban pheasant.

CM: What can we expect from you next…?
VM: My next project is called ‘Hair Peace’. I am attempting to trace the real human hair extensions on my head back to the humans who grew them. A well-meaning hairdresser applied the extensions when I was competing as a beauty queen. It’s a show about global trade, traceability and the search for the story behind my (well – someone else’s) long flowing locks.

‘Major Tom’ is on at Soho Theatre from 1-5 Jul. See the venue website here for info and tickets.

LINKS: | |