TV’s Helen looking for the Rex Factor in Gorleston

It had the feel of a big-time audition with ambitious wannabes lining up to demonstrate they had the looks, the poise, the acting skills, the animal magic... in short, the Rex Factor.

Dogs and their owners followed the yellow brick road to Gorleston from as far afield as Norwich and Lowestoft to audition for the part of Dorothy's best friend, Toto.

Helen McDermott, who is producing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – the Pantomime, at the Pavilion Theatre was pleased with the response to her request for 'tail-waggers with star potential' and 'talented mutts aiming for the big-time'.

Casting her eye over the barking auditionees, ranging in size from tiny terrier Alfie to two large labradors, the former Anglia star said: 'We were hoping to find a dog with the Rex Factor, but I wonder whether we will come to regret it.'

Pavilion director Stuart Durrant joined Helen on stage using treats to cajole the dogs into the spotlight to see how they would react in front of an audience.

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'We have had one or two dogs on stage before but never a dozen, and they say you should never work with children and animals,' he said nervously.

His worst fears came true when Harry, a cocker spaniel cross, cocked his leg up over the theatre sign outside, to the horror of owner Jayne Fewkes, of Windsor Road, Lowestoft.

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Jayne, who works for Great Yarmouth accountants Lovewell Blake, said: 'Harry's got a lovely nature and will sit and give paw. He'll certainly follow Dorothy if she has a treat in her hand.'

Unfortunately, Helen decided that Harry would be too big for the petite Dorothy, played by actress Kelly Bibb, to pick up.

Kelly, currently on stage in London, will return to the Pavilion having played the lead in last year's production of Dick Whittington.

Emily Moitoi-Sturman, of Lowestoft, brought along her mother Frances' west Highland terrier cross Bronte from Blundeston, and was full of hope that 'she looked the part'.

Sadly, nerves got the better of her and she ran off stage. The same fate also befell Hettie, a four-month-old cocker spaniel brought along by Janice Pattison, of Dell Road, Oulton Broad.

'I think she might be a bit too young,' suggested Helen, hastily drawing a veil over the puddle that appeared in the aisle of the theatre.

More promising auditions came from Amber, a Yorkshire terrier, who travelled with her owner April Hewitt from Peterkin Road in Norwich – 'she visits a Dorothy in an old people's home' – and Riley, a miniature dachsund, accompanied by proud owner Annie Turnbull, of Poplar Avenue, Gorleston. 'He does anything for a treat,' she said.

Helen, who is looking to pick two Totos for the pantomime run from December 8 to January 2, was helped in her deliberations by dog trainer Linda Baxter, from Lowestoft dog training society.

Linda, who brought along her own border collie Lollipop, said: 'Toto needs to be placid, with basic training skills and good with people.'

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