Review: Flush – A Dog’s Life

This week, we basked in the pleasure of our first in-house theatrical production in over a year and a half. The play was Flush, a one-act ‘biography’ of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel of the same name. It was an unexpected delight. I hadn’t read production notes, didn’t remember which play I was about to attend, and had forgotten that it had been written by Virginia Woolf. (It has been busy here as we prepare for a backyard wedding.) The writing sparkled, and the tone was light-hearted. Anthropomorphism was largely held in check, but Flush’s observations about the comings and goings of his mistress’ home on London’s Wimpole Street and later in Florence, Italy, allowed for keen observations of class, wealth, privilege, and the plight of women intellectuals.

Flush. Photo by Lauren Garbutt.

Flush’s observations come by way of his olfactory and taste receptors, not a surprise because dogs have over 300 million olfactory receptors compared to human’s six million, and the part of their brains dedicated to scent is proportionally forty times greater than human’s1.. Anyone who has been blessed with a dog will have observed the power of the nose to glean information. To his credit, Flush’s puppeteer brought the dog ‘to life’ as a confidant, observer, protector,  and bon vivant. The play was narrated in Woolf’s ‘voice’ by four actors who also assumed other roles: Julie Lumsden (Elizabeth Barrett Browning),  Drew Plummer (puppeteer), Jonathan Tan (Robert Browning, Barrett’s father) and Jacqueline Thair (the Barrett’s maid). The set within a set created a pantomime-like cloistered experience for the Wimpole Street period. The actors’ faces were hidden from view, and their interactions with Flush were silent. The result was that Flush was front and centre. By contrast, the set for the period in Florence was open and expansive, a metaphor perhaps for the social and intellectual differences between the two countries. Freedom was the operative word for both Flush and his mistress.

Covid-19 has played havoc with theatre for over a year and a half. For our part, my husband and I felt comfortable with the precautions taken by staff. We were well distanced from other attendees, and we all wore masks except when we took sips of wine. My only regret is that the constraints on numbers mean that fewer people will be able to see the festival’s excellent productions this summer and fall.

  1. Dogs’ Dazzling Sense of Smell | NOVA | PBS

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of the novel, Autumn’s Grace, a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices.

©2021, Bonnie L. Lendrum.

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