Picture a block of wood: it’s a thing of limitless possibility. As the carver chips away at it, who knows what it might form into? Each step alters it. Each change informs your response. What might you learn from the creative process itself? And who determines how you perceive the result when it’s complete?
Back in 2018, queer artists and couple Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill set out to respond to MacAskill’s gender reassignment by documenting the transition as, like Pinocchio the puppet, MacAskill set out to become a ‘real boy’. As the change progressed, the artwork it informed became this stage show. Now produced by Artsadmin, The Making of Pinocchio is a wonderfully playful, complex, bold, brave and very moving story describing transformation and potential.
This autobiographical journey is framed within a fabulously theatrical and comic version of the Pinocchio story. Cade and MacAskill examine questions arising as they explore a space of multiple possibilities; from puppet workshop, to Pleasure Island, to the belly of a whale, transforming from female to male and even to donkey in the process!
The LIFT 2022 Festival, of which the show is a part, advertises ‘Unexpected Perspectives’, and here at the Battersea Arts Centre that’s exactly what’s achieved. The auditorium becomes a film set, draped from floor to ceiling in scarlet fabric, which complements the fairy tale theatricality but equally suits more sexually themed scenes. Merging invisibly into this backdrop, red-costumed camera operators explore the performance with detailed intimacy, dwarfing and enlarging the performers by turn. Sometimes Cade and MacAskill deploy the cameras. This all cleverly enables alternative ways of understanding the story: viewing it in different ways reveals multiple truths.
The couple are both immensely likeable and incredibly funny as through their art they create a fascinating interpretation of their lived experience. Within an often ridiculous storybook fantasy they frankly outline the difficulties of gender transition, and of belief in identity. Who gets to decide what makes you “a real boy in a post truth world”? What is a real boy anyway? Who is the puppet master in making a puppet boy, and who supports puppet rights?
Power dynamics and perspectives are immensely fluid here. Cade demands acknowledgment of their importance as a partner in the process, and tells how new understanding of their own orientation emerged as their partner changed. The pair are hugely honest about the difficulties encountered. At one point MacAskill bravely and literally strips everything back until their trans body itself is the only reality we see and understand.
The script brilliantly demonstrates the meaninglessness of social definitions and norms, humorously intermingling fact and fiction to make clear that nothing is clear. Endless repetition of binary states makes them simply absurd. We meet a real cricket who is also a projection. We are offered real wood, fake wood, and fake real wood. At one point both performers become hilariously entangled in a giant inflatable tree, which pins them to the ground despite its hollowness.
Tim Spooner’s inventive costume design enables their bodies to be redesigned and reassembled differently to suit the individual. The clever technology and warmly human performance is also complemented beautifully by Yas Clarke’s soundtrack of enchanted violins, electronic bloops and bubbles, which is both weirdly calming and cartoon.
The lovers end the show in a romantic embrace that continues remotely even as they physically leave the stage, and Cade optimistically reminds us that when you wish upon a star you don’t just get the one option: with a little imagination the choices are truly limitless. I would wish to see this show again and again.
Written by: Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill
Set, Prop & Costume Design by: Tim Spooner
Sound Design by: Yas Clarke
Camera Operator and performer: Jo Hellier
Lighting Design & Production Manager: Jo Palmer
Cinematography by: Kirstin McMahon
Produced by: Mary Osborn for Artsadmin
The Making of Pinocchio plays as part of Lift 2022. It is at Battersea Arts Centre until 2 July 2022. Further information and bookings can be found here
A digital performance is also available until 10 July, more information can be found here.