Robots are the future – aren’t they? Whether its self-driving cars or AI replacing us all, the potential of this technology is pretty impressive, and daunting. But what about when it comes to family? A new play at the Royal Court poses the question of whether the perfect child is possible to create if you build it from a flat-packed robot kit….
Instructions for Correct Assembly is a play on a quest for perfection. This is a dystopian set-up featuring a couple, Hari and Max, who decide to construct a flat-pack robot son from a catalogue. It may seem like a strange decision to make, but once the audience learn about the earlier death of the middle-aged pair’s ‘real’ son due to drugs, their attempts to create a new child with ideal qualities makes much more sense.
The cast is pretty star-studded, with Max being played by Jane Horrocks of Ab Fab and , Sunshine on Leith fame, opposite Scotsman Mark Bonnar (husband Hari) who you may recognise from series such as Catastrophe and Line of Duty. Using flashback scenes with the couple’s drug addict son, the story gets pieced together much like Hari and Max gradually assemble their new son, Jan. The same actor, Brian Vernel, plays both their drug-addict son Nick, in the flashbacks, and their new robot son Jan, causing deliberate confusion as to whether we are watching the robot son or the real one: this technique works really well, deliberately blurring the lines between real and robot, flawed vs. ‘perfect’.
Hari and Max’s neighbours, Laurie and Paul, with a daughter at Oxford and a picture-perfect life, are a relentless comedic duo who provide a further point of comparison between the real and the fake, the messy and the perfect, the natural and the programmed.
The physicality of the play is deliberately dystopian: the whole drama takes place within a box-like frame, with a conveyor belt running through the middle of the stage, delivering different parts of the flat-pack son. One slightly bizarre element of the play’s use of physical theatre is the actors all turning into jerky robots between scenes, admittedly slightly off-putting, breaking up the play and feeling somewhat forced.
This play may not be picture-perfect itself, arguably a tad superficial in dealing with these difficult topics, and with questionable use of physical theatre, but is, overall, a funny and heartfelt exploration of our relationship with technology and perfection.
Instructions for Correct Assembly is playing until 19 May 2018 at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, SW1W, 8AS. Tickets are available from £12.
Review originally published on Londonist, April 2018