Instructions For Correct Assembly at the Royal Court Theatre review ****


Instructions For Correct Assembly

Royal Court Theatre, 23rd April 2018

I was much taken with Thomas Eccleshare’s previous outing, Heather, on a recent outing at the Bush Theatre (Heather at the Bush Theatre review *****). Instructions for Correct Assembly looked similarly intriguing and, much to my surprise, I manage to rope in both the SO and the Blonde Bombshells to hold my hand. Well I can report that satire IFCA is well worth a viewing even if Mr Eccleshare doesn’t seem to fully explore the ramifications of the imaginative scenario he conjures. Mind you what do I know. I am so dull I couldn’t even come up with an idea one tenth as good and then wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.

Hari, played by Mark Bonnar, who I guarantee you will know from the telly, and Max, Jane Horrocks, who needs no introduction, are keen to have a second shot at parenthood. Only this time they are taking no chances and opt for a technological solution. An off the shelf AI robot in kit form, think IKEA, which they are trying to put together in the opening scene, whose behaviour, emotions and attitudes can be altered by remote control. The result, Jan, as we soon find out, is the spitting image of their human son, Nick, who, let’s say, didn’t quite meet their expectations. I’ll say no more but the set up provides plenty of opportunity for wicked humour, particularly when Nick’s failings are set against the achievements of Amy (Shaniqua Okwok), daughter of next door neighbours bragging Laurie (Michele Austin) and condescending Paul (Jason Barnett). It also examines the relationship between parents and their children as they turn into adults and specifically what happens when someone “throws their life away” as Nick does on drugs. Would we really want, need or trust technology to help us make perfect kids and what should we do when the real thing fails to live up to our hopes and dreams?

What really makes the play come to life, as it were, is Brian Vernel’s performance as Jan/Nick. I was much impressed by young Mr Vernel’s performance as Konstantin in Sean Holmes’s erratic Seagull at the Lyric (The Seagull at the Lyric Hammersmith review ***), a production which I think in retrospect was better than I gave it credit for. He also stood out in the otherwise disappointing Future Conditional at the Old Vic as well as on the telly (David Hare’s Collateral and in the Last Kingdom, which I was addicted to). He has a slightly other-worldly quality, which, unsurprisingly, fits the bill here, but can turn convincingly nasty when required. Here, as he shifted between a desperate Nick and the machine Jan he was tremendous.

The set design of Cai Dyfan is the other star of the show, as a narrow window into Hari’s and Max’s suburban home, complete with conveyor belt of parts as they put Jan together, opens up in subsequent scenes before metaphorically collapsing again into the finale. This is an enterprising solution to Mr Eccleshare’s text which calls for a lot of different rooms and fairly rapid switches between them. The visual trickery courtesy of illusionist Paul Kieve is similarly eye-catching. Hamish Pirie’s direction is geared to making the most of the clever set pieces even if he can’t quite work out a way to fully realise the emotional torments that the plot should realise. We can only assume that Nick turned into the person he was in part because of Max and Hari’s influence and that their doomed attempt at redemption reflects their guilt. There is not enough in the play though to make this connection. The whole may be somewhat less than the sum of the parts, as it were.

Even so it gets its points across, is often wryly amusing, the dinner party scene in particular, and doesn’t outstay its welcome as some “dystopian satire'” plays are prone to do. The SO and the Blonde Bombshells were more than satisfied with their outing and I await Thomas Eccleshare’s next writing move (he is also a founder of visual theatre company Dancing Brick with his partner Valentina Ceschi) with interest. Meanwhile I humbly recommend you pop along to this