A round of reviews for Instructions for Correct Assembly at the Royal Court Theatre

Thomas Eccleshare’s dystopian play Instructions for Correct Assembly has opened to rave reviews at London’s Royal Court Theatre.

Directed by Hamish Pirie (Goats), Eccleshare’s futuristic show is a funny and provocative new play about two parents who replace their dead son with an A.I. robot straight from a flat pack.

The production stars Mark Bonnar (Shetland, Catastrophe) and Jane Horrocks (Little Voice, King Lear, AbFab), as the parents, with Brian Vernel playing the dual role of the dead son and the new flat-pack AI son.

Instructions for Correct Assembly will be performed in the Jerwood Theatre downstairs.

Read a round-up of reviews below.

The Guardian, ★★★

“Bonnar and Horrocks star in clever sci-fi satire.

“Even if there is a hole at the play’s heart, it has been assembled by director Hamish Pirie and designer Cai Dyfan as cleverly as the machine-made Jan: scenes that are glimpsed through a rectangular aperture whisk by on a travelator before the set opens up to show us the suburban jungle.

Jane Horrocks captures excellently the trim conformity and residual guilt of the maternal Max, while Mark Bonnar suggests the trouble with Hari is that he believes you can build the perfect son out of DIY fervour.

Jason Barnett and Michele Austin are equally good as the boastful neighbours. Brian Vernel is outstanding as both the flawed Nick and the mechanised Jan who, as someone observes, has his head screwed on the right way. Yet while the play aims some deft blows at our desire for an unrealisable perfection and is well worth seeing, its own flaws are all too apparent.”

Michael Billington, The Guardian

Independent, ★★★

”Hamish Pirie directs Thomas Eccleshare’s play with flair, but there’s a lack of human warmth to proceedings.”

“In this production, Brian Vernel pulls off a brilliant double by playing both flawed, jittery Nick and Jan, his idealised aspirational alternative. The play has an eloquently non-linear structure that sometimes leaves us guessing about which of them we are watching.”

“The parents, despite two excellent performances, don’t snag your heart enough with the grotesquely misguided mistake of their attempt at a second chance. There’s a lack of human warmth which, given the theme, isn’t the brand of imperfection the play is asking us to embrace.”

Paul Taylor, The Independent

The Telegraph, ★★★★

“The scenario for Thomas Eccleshare’s dazzlingly assured, funny and perturbing Royal Court debut could almost have hailed from the Charlie Brooker factory for dystopian satires.”

“Without forcing the issues, Eccleshare rivets all the nuts and bolts into place, so that a brilliantly simple idea builds into a searing indictment of societal norms and a moving study of parental grief: Horrocks begins Bubble-wrapped, as air-headed as her AbFab character, but with Bonnar unpacks a profound desolation, trying to hit rewind yet stuck in a repeat-loop of received ideas. Assemble at once to see it.”

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

Financial Times [paywall], ★★★

“Clever, thoughtful and often funny.

A wry futuristic new comedy poses — deliberately — all sorts of challenges.

“The ending feels slick and seems to row back emotionally. A handful of screws left over, then. But still, this is a sharp, sad play about loss, longing and the ache for second chances.”

Sarah Hemming, Financial Times

The Stage, ★★★

“Cleverly constructed from promising components. It asks shrewd, uncomfortable questions about parenthood, explores the implications of our growing reliance on technology, and slyly suggests that, like good little automatons, we all live our lives more mechanically than we like to think: doing what’s expected of us, obediently staying in our self-constructed social boxes until we’re coffined and turned into landfill.

But, if the plot doesn’t feel especially fresh, the play’s astringent wit and wry, skewed perspective are enormously diverting, and excellently served by Hamish Pirie’s ingenious production. More problematic is the absence of heart: it’s fun to watch, but it’s all bloodless cunning contrivance.”

Sam Marlowe, The Stage

The Times, ★★★★

“Thomas Eccleshare’s new play about parenthood is deftly done, funny and, at times, almost unbearably poignant.”

Ann Treneman, The Times

Metro, ★★★

”Hamish Pirie’s super slick, beautifully-acted production uses a factory line aesthetic to channel that curious sinister quality lurking beneath the conformist surfaces of suburbia, and the laughs, of which there are many, come shaded in unease. But for all the seeping horror of Eccleshare’s quirkily presented dystopia, I wonder: do you ever really feel it?

The problem with a play about characters who have no meaningful human connection with each other is that it risks lacking a meaningful connection with its audience. And for all the many sharp pleasures on offer, so it proves here.”

Claire Allfree, Metro

Time Out, ★★★

“I mean who among us wouldn’t want to replace our merely disappointing family members with cheap, well-behaved automata? That’s the premise – kinda – to this Royal Court debut from writer Thomas Eccleshare.

‘In many respects, though, ‘Instructions…’ feels blunt and clunky, its speculative fiction dimension playing out like a fairly unsubtle sitcom device. Jån is really just light relief: the show never explores what or why he is; he’s there to say a series of silly things and make Max and Hari look pitiful for having given up on Nick.

‘Instructions for Correct Assembly’ is fun, but it’s shallower than the average Royal Court show. Pirie has assembled Eccleshare’s play with care and flair, but the writing still feels a bit flatpack.”

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

Evening Standard, ★★★★

“Playful, provocative look at perfection”

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard

Buy tickets to Instructions for Correct Assembly

Instructions for Correct Assembly is booking until 19 May at the Royal Court Theatre, London

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