Instructions for Correct Assembly, Royal Court

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by Laura Kressly

I reckon you can find any kind of furniture you’d like flatpacked. You can even buy flatpack houses. But would you purchase a build-your-own family member that’s totally programme to fit your idea of a perfect person?

We know that the IKEA website promises a gleaming, flawless home that never fully materialises from a pile of chipboard and allen keys, so grieving Max and Harry’s ‘adoption’ of an AI son to replace one they recently lost has a fairly predicable end. But Thomas Eccleshare’s anti-technology play, despite the tiredness of the trope that AI will ruin the world, has a lot of other, more interesting themes to unpack. Status quo, addiction, grief and parental expectations create some excellent moments of tension and social commentary.

As Max and Harry struggle to train their robot to be the perfect child, the carefully groomed greenery of their garden starts to spread, until it’s a gravity-defying monstrosity that looms over their little world. Nature always wins out over the otherwise perfectly controlled environment the couple strives to create, that their son Nick managed to tear down again and again. It’s a great choice by director Hamish Pirie and designer Cai Dyfan.

Technology is embedded through much of the script and the design, and Pirie also uses it to comedic effect in the transitions. Though this message may be tedious, and perhaps undermined by the comedy, it’s emplyed consistently.

The cast is solid, but Brian Vernel particularly stands out as both Nick and Jan, the robot. His physical and vocal dexterity is clear and precise, with one scene being particularly devastating as it hinges on the two characters growing similarities.

There’s some sharp writing and unexpected laughs from Eccleshare’s script, and its marriage with design elements makes this a smart production. It’s too preachy, but lays out some provocative premises that make clear comments on our urge to control our environment and those around us.

Instructions for Correct Assembly runs through19 May.

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