“The Making of Pinocchio” at Battersea Arts Centre

Tom Bolton in south London
5 November 2023

Cade & MacAskill – Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill – are a performance duo whose work draws on their personal experience of gender fluidity and transition. They take the Pinocchio story, which they have been working on for five years, as a mechanism for interrogating their own experience as a couple, blending real life and fiction in a compelling and original show which keeps the audience on its toes, never quite sure what they are going to do next.


Photo credit: Tiu Makkonen.


The Making of Pinocchio is staged in a film studio, the action simultaneously shown on a big screen at the front of the stage, so we see both what is really going on and the illusion crafted for the camera. This is technically impressive and very funny. Cade, as the ancient Geppetto, stalks around in a pair of giant wooden glasses doing a ludicrous and very amusing old man act. Geppetto crafts a puppet from a tree, played by MacAskill in a wood effect costume equipped with sockets from which phallic branches protrude. After the first scene, though, the traditional narrative breaks down and the pair delve into their own lives, and MacAskill’s experiences taking testosterone and transitioning into a male body.

The show is delightfully and ingeniously staged, constantly playing with the illusion created by the camera perspective, making characters appear much larger or smaller than they really are. As the camera operators circle the stage (wielding cameras made of wood), they build a tension between the way we present ourselves and what we really are that goes to the heart of the pair’s gender identities, as well as the role of a performer.

Pinocchio’s motivation to “become a real boy” raises more questions than it answers, and leads Cade & MacAskill to affirm their own identities separately from social expectations. “We’ve always been here, and we always will be,” says MacAskill of trans people like himself. The show is courageous in the way the performers expose themselves, literally and metaphorically, in their search for agency. It is also very funny, with some surreal and dirty scenes, one of which imagines Battersea Arts Centre’s artistic director in a way he is most unlikely to have expected.

The creative team, which includes designer Tim Spooner, responsible for the combination of red drapery and weird wood effects, and camera operator Jo Hellier who both appear throughout, are an essential part of the show’s success. Cade & MacAskill are not figuring things out on their own: they are part of a community, reinforced by a supportive audience, which is making a queer journey together and living lives that are based on understanding, mutual support, and real freedom.

The Making of Pinocchio appears casual on the surface, but reveals multiple layers of technical expertise and creative theatre-making. It is a humane and forward-looking production that places Cade & MacAskill at the forefront of challenging, questioning, communal queer theatre narrative.