Writer: Will Jackson
Director: Philip J Morris
Mention driving lessons and comedy fans will think immediately of Bob Newhart’s classic driving instructor sketch or possibly the BBC’s Learners if not their own horror stories of trying to perfect their skills at the wheel before a test. With cries of “brake a leg” ringing in their ears, Bush Theatre offers a short but extremely sparky new play that not only steers its way through learning to drive but also takes a journey through acceptance.
Yes, there is humour in the context of the driving lessons themselves, but there are richer and deeper elements uncovered within the pressure cooker of a small car, including masculinity, identity, escape, and having the guts to try something new by taking a leap of faith.
As part of the venue’s 50th anniversary Will Jackson’s play features just two performers mostly sitting in the driver and passenger seats of a Vauxhall Corsa (a simple but effective set by Georgia Wilmot, brought to life through Laura Howard’s lighting and Bella Kear’s sound).
Jackson’s writing is sharp and funny: having only passed his own driving test relatively recently he is clearly drawing on personal memories for the basis of the piece. But the play succeeds by accelerating through unnecessary scene-setting and allowing the characters to come alive and tell their own stories as the more thought-provoking side comes to the fore. Clutch came about whilst Jackson was a member of the Bush’s Emerging Writers Group and proves that the stand-up comic has rapidly been able to throw away his playwriting L-plates.
Geoffrey Aymer is a huge hit as Max the ex-London cabbie who reckons he is now the best driving instructor in Birmingham, proudly proclaiming, “I’ve been doing this for over twenty years and I’ve never had a student not pass first time.” His down-to-earth character, who we gradually learn has family and relationship problems, is immediately lovable and the performance is so perfect you can only hope he has the chance to carry the part beyond this production – a television sitcom series would surely not be out of the question.
Making his professional debut with a cheeky assurance and pleasing confidence is Charlie Kafflyn as the learner driver, Tyler. With his early aside that he “used to be a girl” there is much to explore in the fascinating trans character, and Kafflyn seizes upon it without ever getting bogged down by it.
Helped by meticulous direction from Philip J Morris, the pair settle into an unlikely relationship that is always believable and enjoyable to watch developing. When the hour has passed you look back on the play with surprise that so much has been covered – from bereavement to mental illness and from homelessness to transphobia. The play is never careless with how the issues are tackled, even if briefly.
It is a delight to see a new play of such intelligence and maturity that never stalls or runs out of gas, and it is certain that audiences will exit the theatre wanting to see lots more of the performers and writer in what must be a very promising future.
Runs until 8 October 2022