Instructions for Correct Assembly is a newly written play by Thomas Eccleshare and directed by the Royal Court’s Associate Director Hamish Pirie.
This sci-fi satire is about a husband and wife, Harry and Max, who decide one day to purchase an AI Robot. As the play develops we discover what has led this couple to invest in a machine to be their child. Whilst it is often comedic and light-hearted for the most part, the themes and issues this piece deals with are not. Eccleshare’s new play wittily analyses multifarious themes such as parenthood; contemporary pressures felt by middle-class parents and their children; substance abuse and grief. His writing attempts to take you on an emotional journey but does not always hit the mark this piece required. Some parts of the writing I found problematic and those problems, unfortunately, were left unaddressed by director Hamish Pirie.
Whilst the three protagonists Harry, Max and Nick/Jan felt like they were three-dimensional, the rest of the characters: Amy, Laurie and Paul to me lacked any depth. In particular, Laurie and Paul were portrayed as the couple that solely brag about their prodigious children and were never really developed much further than that. This is partly due to Eccleshare’s writing; but also Pirie’s direction of Jason Barnet (Paul) and Michele Austin (Laurie). The way these characters dealt with Max and Harry’s decision to adopt an AI was problematic. I understand that the friends were trying to humour the couple as they thought it was just a bit of fun, but these characters never really showed much concern for their ‘friends’. Having supported Max and Harry through a really difficult period in their life, it felt unreal that they would be so uncaring about this. Their characters often felt like nothing more than theatrical tools used as a foil to Harry and Max.
“I expected more than this safe and insipid production”
Although this was a very well-cast play (all the cast members were greatly suited to their roles), at times I was left wanting more from the actors. Overall, there was a problem with some of the cast’s diction and energy levels, particularly in the first half. Mark Bonnar (Harry) was, unfortunately, one of the culprits and often jokes were missed due to his poor diction. Whilst he did a pretty good job and had some lovely moments playing Harry, his character didn’t really develop much through the piece. Brian Vernel was arguably the best in the production. His performance was versatile, captivating and engaging. He was funny, charismatic and able to instantly change personality as Jan. Vernel lifted the script making it his own. Max (played by Jane Horrocks) is the character that goes through the biggest progression and character journey and Horrocks did a fantastic job with it. At first, I really disliked her – I do still have some issue with how Eccleshare portrays Max’s character as a stereotypical white lower-middle-class wife that likes gardening and is terrible at DIY, often looking to her husband for assistance – however, as the play progresses we begin seeing a fire to Max that I absolutely loved. In her last scene with Nick where she says: ‘You’re speaking to mum! Okay?’ there was such a shift and change to her character that Horrocks’ initial portrayal of Max as this meek and fake housewife made much more sense. I say fake because you could tell that underneath that surface there was a lot more to Max than she was letting on. I really congratulate Horrocks for her greatly nuanced performance of Max.
Instructions for Correct Assembly is, overall, a pretty good production that is worth watching. It had some great theatrical tricks/illusions with an excitingly unique stage design by Cai Dyfan. But as a new piece of writing performed in the prestigious Royal Court and directed by the Royal Court’s associate director, I expected more than this safe and insipid production.
Image: Johan Persson