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A CurtainUp London Review
Instructions For Correct Assembly

"Something's malfunctioned." — Max
Jane Horrocks as Max. Brian Vernel as Jan and Mark Bonnar as Harry (Photo: Johan Persson)
In this age when money can buy us much of what we desire, it is inevitable that the next stop along life's journey will be the design of the perfect child. As it is, the rich can pour money into education and pre- and after-school experiences, but despite the best of intentions, still the children can go off the rails.

We first meet Harry (or Hari) (Mark Bonnar) and Max (Jane Horrocks) in their kitchen where they appear to be unpacking a new box from an "assemble it yourself" store like IKEA. Harry says that it might be a little more complicated than the bed but is confident that it is within his build abilities. Harry makes a phone call to the service line a couple of scenes later to complain about the missing bits —all we have seen is something that looks like a foot.

Switch to Harry and Max's interactions with the parents of their son Nick's school friend, Amy (Shaniqua Okwok). Laurie (Michele Austin) and Paul (Jason Barrett) are talking about their son Cal and his swimming training schedule as a potential Olympian, about their daughter Sophia, who aged 11 has been tested by the RIBA and found to be an architectural prodigy and Amy who is on her way to Oxford. As Laurie talks about Amy's university offer, her daughter mouths "to Oxford" just before her mother says it. These are ambitious parents with a decided sense of reflected pride.

The playwright tantalisingly starts to reveal information about Harry and Max's son Nick but he is played by the same actor who also plays Jan, the new family arrival, who comes ready made or rather ready to assemble, apart from a few missing parts, in his later teens. A picture is built of both of them together and the audience will be confused as to whether we are watching Jan or Nick and that is intentional on the author's part.

The performance from Brian Vernel as Jan (and Nick) is delightful as the parents discover that a moral compass or socialization or their political views have not been included in the plan for their teenager. A remote control is beeped to silence Jan when he says something they disapprove of. This is high comedy. Scenes with Jan are intermixed with scenes from the past with Nick, documenting his alienation from his parents, demands for money and his use of narcotics as he spirals out of education and the guaranteed future that Amy appears to have.

Cal Dyfan's set has a smaller curtained aperture like a puppet stage - but I'm not sure why except to give a miniaturized view of the action which moves on a kind of travelator. Later the set breaks into a jungle background behind gauze which later still becomes clearer as a comment on the society out there. Some of the direction has the cast moving as if they are robotic, the people who aren't robots but there is clever work with Jan's head and shoulders looking as if it is disembodied.

Harry's answer to everything is to look at the manual and work out a solution but Jane Horrocks' Max anxiously dwells on her tough love decision made towards her son Nick. Despite the concept of the robotic child being not wholly believable, the performances are credible in this situation. The highlight of the play for me is the disastrous dinner party as Jan breaks with social convention which is both funny and terrifying. Is the ultimate message to accept what you have rather than to strive for perfection?

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Instructions For Correct Assembly
Written by Thomas Eccleshare
Directed by Hamish Pirie
Starring: Mark Bonnar, Jane Horrocks, Brian Vernel, Michele Austin, Shaniqua Okwok, Jason Barnett
Design: Cal Dyfan
Composer: Duramaney Kamara
Lighting Design: Jack Knowles
Sound Design: Helen Skiera
Illusionist: Paul Kieve
Movement: Vicki Manderson
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 19th May 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th April 2018 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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