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FringeReview UK 2018

Instructions For Correct Assembly

Royal Court Theatre

Genre: Dark Comedy, Drama, New Writing, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs


Low Down

Thomas Eccleshare‘s Instructions For Correct Assembly at the Royal Court Downstairs directed by Hamish Pirie is designed by Cai Dyfan’s smart rectangular cut-outs before a full mounted interior lit by Jack Knowles with illusionist Paul Kieve’s vernal projections. Vicki Manderson’s movement is key to much of the play. Duramaney Kamra’s neatly flipped music punctuates it with unobtrusive sound by Helen Skiera that at the last lets in the buzz of nature.


Their names nudge the future, but otherwise it’s dystopia now. ‘I thought that we could have a go at it together, you know like we did with the upstairs bed?’ says Mark Bonnar’s Hari to his wife Max. ‘You had natural flat pack talent.’ Jane Horrocks’ Max blithely preens herself: ‘You said I was the Susan Boyle of DIY.’ Rooting out the toe and the shin is one thing, but the heart’s more difficult to locate for anyone in this family of desperate second chances. They’re assembling their dead son’s robotic simulacra Jan and there’s wiring issues – just as there was with Jan’s original Nick, impossibly reared to perfection.


Thomas Eccleshare‘s Instructions For Correct Assembly at the Royal Court Downstairs directed by Hamish Pirie gives us first a peep – in Cai Dyfan’s smart rectangular cut-out view – then the full mounting. It comes with Paul Kieve’s vernal projections and a skylight as we’re let cautiously into Max and Hari’s home. It’s lit by Jack Knowles in a succession of primary garish colours then exploded into merciless brightness in backdrops. Each room’s introduced by items on a conveyer belt and on occasion a rather jumpy dance-off suggesting we’re all automata heavily underscoring a more delicate point. Otherwise Vicki Manderson’s remarkable movement directions infuses the play – from jerky nods to a climactic argument. This is where Duramaney Kamra’s neatly flipped music punctuates it with unobtrusive sound by Helen Skiera that at the last lets in the buzz of nature, a gesturally ironic one as it turns out.


Brian Vernel’s got his work cut out, largely in an assembly pack, but his virtuosic shift between flesh and figured-out circuitry going awry is the high-wire act of this steely suburban sci-fi. Nick, the son who left for university to drop out as a thieving addict sneaking through windows and cadging everything, is in itself a harrowing cut-out of a part. Indeed, at one point he’s a talking head unattached to a body. Metaphors come streaming like a remote eternally flipping channels.


It’s a non-linear progression, so we’re meant to double-take between rebarbative and often repentant Nick and his simulated double, who at the blip of a remote starts polite, makes laddish c-word sallies and is then flipped ‘Maybe turn down the ‘opinionated’ dial?’ But he’s far more unpredictable, and his compass swung from UKIP to Guardian takes on messianic tints as Jan overcompensates. There’s a great set-piece meltdown. Just as Hari and Max’s attempts to create the perfectly-loved child derail – there’s a railways set too for the programmed Jan – they’re beset by their baleful opposites, the really perfect family. Michele Austin’s Laurie, Jason Barnett’s Paul and Shaniqua Okwok’s Oxford-bound Amy offer up a casual rebuke. Austin dispatches offhand such boasted inversions that Amy’s three A stars would have been four at any normal school.


Yet Amy herself has always looked up to Nick, one school year ahead. There’s layers here unexplored given the nature of the play’s trope, but Okwok ‘s and Vernel’s exchanges are mostly confined to when he’s Jan. Just here you long for a breathing space to see Nick’s cut-out absence outside his family. There’s a neat sub-plot where you find Paul’s does his best to set Nick on his feet, but you see Nick’s decline, rally and crash as it were by mechanical lightning – in briefly illuminating scenes like a prophesy of his fused avatar Jan.


Vernel though is sovereign in his robotic leaps and flops as a hastily programmed then un-programmable echo of Nick, where somehow the ghost’s got in the machine. It provides the most poignant theatre, and Horrocks and Bonnar in a few gestures portray their loss when each is alone with Nick.


The climax is that dinner party and after, which has to be seen: there’s a few textual deletions afterwards to bring up the denouement, which on balance seems right. There’s comedy and a logic-board to Eccleshare’s fable, though just occasionally some of the loss might have done service in a mute beat. As an ingenious commentary on everything from genetic manipulation to over-determining children’s achievements, it’s a necessary unforgettable object lesson, in all senses.