Royal Court (venue)
14 April 2018 (released)
17 April 2018
The possibilities of Artificial intelligence are so firmly established in our TV drama and film consumption that Eccleshare’s dystopian satire about a flat packed son who can be operated by remote control feels almost normal. Except here the target is not the dangers of AI to society but that of ‘perfectionist’ parents with absurdly high expectations of their ‘model’ off-spring.
The story is fairly simple. Clean living, suburban Max and Harry (Mark Bonnar and Jane Horrocks), order a flat pack son called Jan, in the wake of their own son, Nick’s death. Nick and Jan (with his ‘polite and white’ selected finish) are both played by Brian Vernel and we gradually discover through flash-back’s that Nick dropped out of university after spiralling into addiction. Bringing warmth and neighbourly competition to the table are friends, Laurie and Paul played by Michelle Austin and Jason Barnett with their high achieving daughter Amy (Shaniqua Okwok).
Hamish Pirie’s direction is precise and at times delightfully unexpected – no doubt seeded in his original training with Le Coq. Without the benefits of digital effects, a little magic is required to successfully bring this kind of concept to the stage. Hence the involvement of illusionist, Paul Kieve who was no doubt behind the moment when Jan’s head (without a body) is wheeled in on the garage work-bench, blinking innocently as he awaits his other body parts. You could feel the whole audience smile.
All element combine to enhance to central message – in particular the design by Cai Dyfan. We begin in a box on a conveyor belt of boxes, the spaces on the stage gradually unfolding to reveal new larger spaces as each scene ‘pings’ into life, and a hyper-real show home emerges. As the neighbours congratulate Nick and Jan on their fabulous extension, the suggestion is clear - a relentless pursuit of perfection in our environment is a manifestation of the desperate attempts to order and ‘box up’ our chaotic inner life. But of course, the mess of the human mind, particularly in times grief cannot be ordered into straight lines. Or can it? Jan begins to wonder if in fact, there is a way…
Eccleshare’s play is highly enjoyable throughout but the strength of the social critique seemed to be at the expense of a deeper exploration of loss or humanity. There was a moment when it looked like Jan was going to rip his ‘parents’ apart and chaos would ensue as their darker sides were let lose on stage. Instead the denouement is a very funny but fairly tame domestic dinner party when Yan shames his ‘parents’ in front of the neighbours – revealing he’s dating a prostitute and dreams of owning a cheap fried chicken empire. There is much to admire in the strong concept and pitch perfect performances but ultimately ‘Instructions for correct Assembly ‘ stays comfortably within it’s own, flat pack walls.