Review:The Show That Smells (Or The Last Temptation Of Jimmie Rodgers) (Clawhammer Theatre)

The Show That Smells at Theatre Passe Muraille

“Funny and quirky” puppet show takes the stage in Toronto

Based on the title alone, I was looking forward to seeing Clawhammer Theatre‘s The Show That Smells (Or The Last Temptation of Jimmie Rodgers) at Theatre Passe Muraille on Friday. I figured any show that includes Jimmie Rodgers, Elsa Schiaparelli, Lon Cheney, Coco Chanel, and  the Carter Family Singers has to be interesting. Add puppets and marionettes and I’m a happy girl.

Gemma James Smith and Gil Garratt created this show based on a novella by Derek McCormack. They also made the puppets and the puppet stage. They have both worked for Ronnie Burkett’s Theatre of Marionettes so they know puppets, and really know how to bring them to life.

Together, they’ve built a wonderful cast of characters. Coco Chanel is delightfully French in her little Chanel suit–how could she be anything but a force for good? Schiaparelli, on the other hand, is flamboyantly evil in shocking pink – or maybe red, but it should be shocking pink! Jimmie’s wife Carrie is very Jacqueline Kennedy in a dress and pillbox hat. Jimmie wears a suit and hat and strums a guitar. Even though I could see Smith and Garratt pulling the strings and moving the puppets, I still was caught up in their story as if they were real.

I can’t imagine this piece with actors. It’s perfect with marionettes and puppets.

The story is as surreal as the cast. Jimmie Rodgers is dying from TB (true) and breathes Chanel No. 5 to mask the smell of his rotting lungs (doubtful). Elsa Schiaparelli – famous haute couture designer – offers to cure him and builds a tent show with him as the star. Coco Chanel and The Carter Family Singers intervene to try and save Jimmie’s Christian soul. Jimmie tells Elsa to go to hell, but Carrie loves Jimmie so much that she accepts Elsa’s offer.

As well as working the puppets and providing the voices, Smith and Garratt also play Jimmie’s music on guitar, banjo, accordion, and pail. Jimmie was famous for his yodelling, and the pair have worked out a nice yodel that they do together.

They also takes turns voicing Jimmie, and maybe some of the other characters. I noticed it with Jimmie early in the show, but after that I didn’t really pay attention to it.

One of things that I really loved was the little room where the doctor examined Jimmie. It was like a tiny stage within a stage within a stage; a tiny curtained box on the front of the puppet stage. One of the premises of the show is that it takes place in a mirror maze, and the stage within a stage felt very mirror-like.

My only quibble is that the show didn’t feel tight enough in some places. Overall, though, the show is funny and quirky, and it’s a fun way to spend 75 minutes.


Photo of Gemma James Smith and Gil Garratt