Black Mirrors technological dystopia collides with Alan Ayckbourn-style socio-political commentary in this brilliantly executed sci-fi tale.
Jane Horrocks and Mark Bonnar play Max and Harry, a couple whose hopes for their once-promising son have all but vanished. Their solution is to purchase an identical robotic replacement that they can program to their exact specifications. The building of the robot son is tremendous fun, with artistic puppetry and smoke-and-mirror tactics bringing the “boy” to life. Writer Thomas Eccleshare wins some big laughs as the excited parents tweak their new sons settings, cycling through political views that range from yes please universal basic income to kill the poor.
Behind the humour, however, lies a deft political message, brought home by a cast equally at home sharing devastating silences as they are light-hearted whimsy.
The staging is sparse and brutal, making full use of an escalator installed at its heart, giving Max and Harrys world a look somewhere between a cubist fever dream and the set of The Generation Game.
Flash backs and flash forwards are cleverly employed, with memory and technology blurring until its unclear if son or cyborg is onstage. Occasionally Eccleshare appears a little too enamoured with his robotic creation, with stage-time weighted in his favour when the play might have benefitted from fleshing out the real sons character more fully.
Ultimately, Instructions for Correct Assembly serves not only as a future-shock comedy, but an acute reminder of our own programming, which in these torrid times is an important message indeed.