Canine stars of Legally Blonde are top dogs at Norwich Theatre Royal

Getting to the theatre in time for a quick run-through of their entrances, up to seven costume changes a night, and sticking to a diet that will allow them to perform at their best.

It is a routine that applies just as much to the canine cast of the Theatre Royal Norwich's latest show as their human counterparts.

But for Bruiser and Rufus, the stars of Legally Blonde the musical, the fuss made over them by the constant stream of visitors coming to their dressing room more than makes up for the hard work.

The two dogs, played by Breezer the Jack Russell-chihuahua cross and Sharpie the English bulldog, are in the middle of a gruelling tour which began last May and sees them changing venue every two weeks.

It makes their private dressing room – complete with dog basket, some showbiz mirror lights and a toddler's stair gate to stop them escaping – a very important place.

Owner and trainer Cindy Sharville, who runs the agency Animals Galore, said: 'We always have a dressing room where the dogs can relax. It can be very busy in the wings in this show.'

The animals perform up to two shows a day and preparation for each day's appearances begins as soon as they get up.

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'They're up in the morning and have a walk,' said Miss Sharville. 'And then it's a little breakfast. Their main meal is in the evening. They are basically working for food – it's all about positive reinforcement, rewarding good behaviour with treats. If they are full-up with breakfast they are not so interested in getting treats throughout the day.'

For a matinee, the dogs need to arrive at the theatre by 1.30pm but have the day to themselves until 6.30pm when they only have one performance.

Once at their place of work, 15-month-old Breezer and three-year-old Sharpie get a chance to run through anything they need a reminder of – from their first entrance to a 'practice bark'.

It is then time for a final walk – perhaps to get rid of any pre-show nerves – before getting into costume ready for the first act.

Miss Sharville said: 'Breezer has seven costume changes throughout the show.'

The dogs head to the wings along with the other Act One beginners and Breezer is given a quick glimpse of the piece of liver concealed in a candlestick held by one of the characters – 'just to remind her it's in there and worth running and barking for'.

In total, Breezer makes five appearances during the show while Sharpie is on stage three times.

Since joining the cast last spring, the animals have become two of the most popular members of the company. Sophie Isaacs, who plays Margot, best friend of lead character Elle, has a soft spot for them having spent lots of time together practising tricks to perform on stage.

'Breezer is phenomenal,' she said. 'She's done every show we have performed bar one. They work really hard.

'They get such a fuss made of them by everyone here.

'Everyone loves having the dogs here.

'They have their own room and we go up and see them to say hello. It's really nice having them around.'

Following the show, the dogs are taken straight back to their city lodgings to get some rest.

Miss Sharville added: 'Their welfare is absolutely paramount. They have to love what they are doing. They have to be enthusiastic. The dog has to want to go on stage: you can't make it go.

'With Sharpie, we sometimes have trouble holding her in the wings waiting for her curtain call. As soon as she hears her cue, she's dragging us onto the stage.'

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