tue 23/07/2024

The Making of Pinocchio, LIFT 2022, Battersea Arts Centre review - witty, ingenious exploration of gender transition | reviews, news & interviews

The Making of Pinocchio, LIFT 2022, Battersea Arts Centre review - witty, ingenious exploration of gender transition

The Making of Pinocchio, LIFT 2022, Battersea Arts Centre review - witty, ingenious exploration of gender transition

How physical transition is etched into the story of our world

No strings: Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill give Pinocchio a modern twistChrista Holka

Pinocchio is one of our most irreverent metamorphosis stories, and in this visually ingenious blend of film and stage performance it’s given a particularly modern twist.

Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill – lovers in real life as well as creative collaborators – use Pinocchio’s quest to be a “real boy” as a witty route to exploring what happened to their relationship when MacAskill began the process of gender transition.

The result is a show of varying quality but when it’s good it’s truly exceptional. Cinematographer Kirstin McMahon and camera operator Jo Hellier make extensive use of the camera technique of “forced perspective” in which figures close to the camera look like giants and those further away look like, well, puppets. The scale distortion is amplified by sequences in which a character walking against a blank red backdrop is transposed on screen into a miniature theatre filmed by another camera. As a result what you see happening on stage very rarely looks like what’s on the screen hanging in the middle of it; the result is simultaneously discombobulating and enchanting.

From the Seventies to the Noughties, Forkbeard Fantasy set the tone for the humorous combination of theatre and film with their dark wit and visual invention. Today Cade and MacAskill make their impact with a more playful whimsical style. What results can sometimes be ravishingly beautiful. Not least the opening in which we see MacAskill walk over to a small box lined with red fabric and adjust the camera so that – to the accompaniment of violins – a jewel-like live cricket is revealed on the screen.

However there are other times when you feel that a sequence that started off as a good idea goes on for far too long. When the couple morph into a "pantomime" donkey with several orifices (pictured above) while complaining what it’s like to become heterosexual/normal it’s funny at first but loses impact after a couple of minutes.

Still, I’d rather see this level of experiment than a script that plays it safe and this is – as you’d expect from a LIFT production – one of the most unusual and inventive shows I’ve seen for a while. When it works, it works. It’s an understatement to say the trans-debate is one of the most highly-politicised of this generation, yet here Cade (they/them) and MacAskill (he/him) make it personal, other-worldly and humorous.

One of the more comic themes is Cade’s jealousy that MacAskill is going to steal the limelight through his gender transition. As a result they repeatedly attempt to lure him off stage so we can focus on them again. Another is Cade’s disappointment that they got together as a lesbian couple and have ended up in a heterosexual relationship. At one point they propose a pleasure island full of boobs, to which MacAskill quips, “Do you miss my breasts?”

While there’s plenty of light and humour in this show, there’s plenty that is profound too. One stunning sequence talks about the evolution of the whale 50 million years ago from land mammal to submarine giant; as MacAskill describes this we see how physical transition is etched into the story of our world. At another point Cade describes watching his transition as being like a parent watching a child develop. Though sometimes, they confess, they wonder if they're more like a parent or an evil puppet master.

The most moving sequence of all is the one in which, after stripping to reveal his new, transforming body MacAskill sings a duet with his filmed pre-transition self who we see also naked, with breasts. His pre-transition self is soprano while he is now more of a tenor; together, poignantly, they perform "When you wish upon a star". It’s an extraordinary moment in an evening of many extraordinary moments heightened by Yas Clarke’s sensitive, mesmerising sound design. Yes, the show could have benefited from a rigorous edit, yet there is more than enough wonder to keep it playing in your mind for days afterwards.


The most moving sequence is when McCaskill sings a duet with his filmed pre-transition self


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters