The ruff guide to theatre
T RAVELLING the country as part of Legally Blonde The Musical's UK tour can be a dog's life – especially for a dog.
Despite appearing alongside stars Ray Quinn and Les Dennis, Elle Woods' canine companion Bruiser has left no bone unturned to ensure everything is to his liking on the road.
Arguably the most inaccurately named Chihuahua on the planet, Bruiser has proved a crowd-pleaser in the West End, where fans queued up at the stage door to meet him.
Now the popular dog – actually three different dogs who share the role – is attracting the loudest cheer when he scampers on stage alongside Elle, played by Faye Brookes, at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.
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Their trainer Cindy Newman said: "Legally Blonde really wouldn't be the same without Bruiser."
Cindy's showbiz animal training company Animals Galore was launched in 1967 when the family pet, a bull terrier called Butch, landed the role of Bill Sikes' dog in the film Oliver! Her hunt for Bruisers began as soon as she arrived in the UK from her New York home. But the biggest decision was whether to cast a Chihuahua – like in the film – at all.
She said: "Training works on the basis of rewarding good behaviour with treats. But Chihuahuas don't have huge appetites, they don't particularly want to please, and they can also be easily offended and sensitive souls."
When it came to casting for the tour, the dogs needed to be even tougher, so the latest crop of Bruisers – real names Pringle, Pepsi and Breezer – are Jack Russell crosses.
Cindy said: "The dogs have to cope with a new venue every fortnight and Jack Russells are a bit more tenacious.
"I'm looking for temperament over looks. If they jump all over me when I meet them, it's a good sign. I don't mind boisterous."
The actresses playing Elle and Margot direct Bruiser live on stage, using a mixture of hand signals, vocal cues, and treats including cat biscuits and liver.
Cindy said: "I really need those actresses to engage with the dog and to stroke him. Sometimes I end up training the actress in how to behave around the dog as much as the other way round."
But nothing prepares them for first night nerves.
Cindy said: "We do a run-through with the rest of the cast in the auditorium whooping and clapping, just to get the dog used to the fact there's an audience out there.
"But however much you rehearse, you can't recreate the atmosphere of a live show. I get Bruiser ready, he runs onto his mat, turns round to see the audience and thinks 'Where did that lot come from?'"
So, what do the Bruisers pack in their away bags? According to Cindy, there is quite a list.
She said: "First, their brushes, shampoo and conditioner. We use baby shampoo in case it gets in their eyes."
Add to that nail clippers, dog waste bags, towels for drying off on rainy days, bedding and toys and the bag is easily twice the size of the dog.
But do the dogs ever get homesick?
Cindy said: "No, because they are with the trainer, someone they love and trust. They have to enjoy it or it doesn't work – it's all about positive reinforcement.
"Plus, they love being told how clever they are."
Legally Blonde The Musical opened at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, on Tuesday and runs until Saturday, June 16. Tickets cost £17 to £47 from 01227 787787 or online from www.marlowetheatre.com