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Review: Instructions for Correct Assembly

Flatpack family: Jane
Horrocks (right) plays
Max, who orders an
easy-to-assemble
replacement for her son
PICTURE: JOHAN PERSSON

REVIEW

Instructions for Correct Assembly

Royal Court, London

★★★✩✩

WILL a certain, highly popular on-demand delivery service prove the downfall of civilisation? It might certainly help the process along. In Thomas Eccleshare’s very funny new satire on today’s instant gratification consumer culture, Hari and Max, the latter played with a near permanent Stepford Wife rictus grin by Jane Horrocks, are able to order themselves a flat pack replacement for their first child, Nick, who went disastrously off the rails.

Jan arrives via premium delivery with assembly instructions and his very own remote control, meaning that Hari and Max don’t only construct his physical shape, they can construct his personality, too. When Jan fails to give the right response to the lovingly curated new bedroom Hari and Max have put together for him, Hari keeps pushing buttons until he does.

Eccleshare has a lot of fun using the Ikea formula for living that suggests that happiness lies in identikit soft furnishings and a self assembly shelving unit to skewer complacent attitudes towards AI. The more easy and friction-free we try to make our environment, be it via a nice beige cushion or a next- day delivery robot son who only ever says or does the right thing, the more dissatisfied we will be.

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.