Well Put Together: Instructions for Correct Assembly at the Royal Court Theatre

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….

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

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

King Lear at the Globe: homelessness, madness and mediocrity

Lear

The opening of King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe is less ‘lights, camera, action’ and more a fizzling illumination and gradual realisation that, indeed, the play is starting. Beanie-clad and backpack-carrying folk make their way through the still chattering crowd and onto the stage – a huge ‘Keep Out’ sign at the set’s centre signals a disused and abandoned building that these squatters are about to claim for themselves.

Once it is ascertained that these scruffy-looking individuals must be the cast and the theatre-goers quieten down, the actors begin to tear down dust sheets, force down barricades, and make the stage into a set more fitting for their rendition of King Lear, an almost Brechtian touch. Throughout the production, the initially covered-up set becomes more and more exposed, mirroring the King’s increasing descent into madness.

Kevin McNally, best known perhaps for his roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, is undoubtedly the star of the show, playing a phenomenal Lear. Joshua James as Edgar, and the character’s disguise of Poor Tom is also highly successful – disguise is certainly the order of the day in Lear, with Saskia Reeves’ Kent taking on a male identity with equally dramatic effects.

It has to be said that for such a tragic play, there are a fair few comedic moments, with plenty of laughs – in true Bard fashion there are innuendos dotted throughout, despite the depressing turn of events. Unlike Emma Rice’s previous colourful, fiesta-style version of Much Ado About Nothing however, her latest directorial work for King Lear is a wholly more subdued affair. Colours are duller, with pastel shade costumes only brightened by the odd instance of pillar box red jackets.  With the exception of the theatrical drumming scene to portray the tempestuous storm, the entire three and a half hour production (which at times feels elongated) seems slightly muted – it’s a solid rendition of King Lear but perhaps one that lacks a wow factor.