With one wall draped in fabric that spills out across the floor, the cavernous grand hall at Battersea Arts Centre has had a makeover à la Lynch’s famous Red room. The set, designed by Tim Spooner (also responsible for costume and props), is full of potential: a large projector hanging from the ceiling, two TV screens sandwich the performance space, puppet-like costumes stand at the back wall, a camera in a wooden casing sits firmly on a stage hand’s head. It looks as though anything and everything is about to happen.
Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill are giving the audience a behind the scenes look at their process as they endeavour to create their filmic version of Pinocchio. The pair are a couple IRL and the show has been developed ‘alongside and in response to Ivor’s gender transition’. Pinocchio proves to be the perfect vehicle for their own story to weave into and out of. Everything we see is subject to change, so we are told, and the piece itself is a work-in-progress. This is a clever framing of their perspective on gender identity; not a fixed place but an ongoing, ever-changing journey - like their glorious set, we are all full of potential.
Although Cade reminds us that MacAskill is ‘the star of the show’, they are interested in exploring how his transition has affected and will continue to affect those around him - these moments, where the couple delve into autobiographical exposition in a charmingly self-aware tone, are juxtaposed by the surreal magic of their Pinocchio retelling. After laying out the lengthy steps (a requirement to ‘prove’ to two doctors MacAskill’s gender dysphoria) and cost (£12,000 and counting) of MacAskill’s transition, the couple question if their performance should draw attention to the difficult realities of being trans in the UK or whether the fantasy tale they present should offer a hopeful, utopian vision of what might be?
The camerawork too is masterful, set down at the edge of the stage and live streamed onto the projector, one lens captures a fairytale opening as Gepetto finds Pinocchio’s tree in the forest. With MacAskill standing in the foreground, his trunk looms large over Cade’s diminutive Gepetto - an ingenious use of scale that is reversed when the tree is chopped down and fashioned into puppet size. The cinematography, by Kirstie McMahon, is consistently ingenious, finding an abundance of ways to compliment the story.
The use of wood might conjure up images of a hurriedly DIY aesthetic but make no mistake: there is not a nail out of place here. On multiple occasions I thought to myself ‘God, that’s clever’, as they invented before my eyes some new theatrical trick I wish I’d thought of myself.
In one particularly memorable moment, Cade climbs a step ladder and asks the audience to play the role of…the audience at Pinocchio’s first performance as a puppet. Who will we decide to be tonight? Avid supporters of puppet rights? Puppets ourselves? Puppet allies? Allies in theory, who would rather puppets not share our bathrooms or teach our kids? Cade closes their eyes and when they reopen them they applaud our transition into audience members at the theatre.
The pair playfully interrogate the ethics of autobiographical performance, criticising yet indulging in the cultural economy of exposing one’s own pain for good art, Cade comically admits that during the making process Ivan had periods where he was really struggling, to which Cade’s initial response was “okay great, how do we use this?”. In the scene following the audience's transformation into an audience, comes one of the show’s most disarming moments, as MacAskill-as-Pinocchio reveals his body in a puppet-like dance, before singing a duet, naked, accompanied by his pre-transition self projected onto the screen above him.
There are so many bits in this show which I love, I could probably watch the pair plonk around Pleasure Island, wooden fallaces protruding from various slots in their craftily composed costumes, for a good hour. The story of Pinocchio trapped in the leather room underneath Battersea Arts Centre has an orgasmic conclusion as he uses his magically engorging nose to hilarious effect. The bones in the belly of the whale, hanging like a Calder mobile, undulate peacefully whilst the red stomach lining billows up and down, swallowing and releasing Calder and MacAskill at the close of the show. Yas Clarke's swirling soundscape of swelling strings followed me out of the foyer and all the way to the bus stop. And the cricket puts in a good turn too.
Whilst MacAskill and Cade lie in each other’s arms, nestled in the whale’s belly, the camera zoomed into their top halves, Cade imagines who they could be in other versions of this show, from box office lovers to the curtains in the theatre who come apart once a night for the sake of art. These imagined futures stretch from the mundane to the sublime and remind us that in this show's heart (or belly) are two artists who love each other dearly. I loved it.
The Making of Pinocchio is at Battersea Arts Centre until 2 July, as part of LIFT 2022, produced by Artsadmin. All tickets Pay What You Can. For access information and tickets, please click here.
The Making of Pinocchio: Digital Edition is also available here from 29 June – 10 July.
The full programme of work for LIFT 2022 is available here.
The Making of Pinocchio by Cade & MacAskill UK stage premiere 2022 BAC, LIFT, Artsadmin. Photo credit Christa Holka.