There is a particular type of relationship that forms between a student and a driving instructor.
The hours spent in the confined space, in close proximity with a person you would never meet in different circumstances. Beginning with small talk but eventually shedding it to discuss life, love, and everything in between. Clutch by Will Jackson (part of the Bush Theatre’s ‘Emerging Writers’ 2020/21) captures this dynamic with the atypical yet heart-warming pairing of Tyler (Charlie Kafflyn), and (Geoffery Aymer) as they drive through the streets of Birmingham.
Day after day, in a series of sessions reminiscent of a montage, the hour-long play speeds us through the unexpected friendship that forms with the pair, with the initially reserved Tyler growing in confidence and ability, able to hold his own against Max’s boisterous dominance. There is some insight into the issues of their personal lives that lay outside the car doors – Tyler is keen to move to London as quickly as he can, perhaps too quickly, and Max is struggling with a complicated divorce, conveyed mostly through humorous one-sided telephone conversations. However, the play, perhaps due to its length, does not give these areas the space to fully develop. Instead, Jackson’s writing focuses on the plot, taking us to the next destination point in the story in a manner that kept my attention but felt a little rushed.
The comedy of the play was largely fulfilling, though, at times, the naturalness of the comedic timing left more to be desired. In an impressive debut, Kafflyn combines humour with moments of startling vulnerability about his experiences as a young trans man. The writing on Tyler’s gender identity is refreshingly clever, acting as a point of conflict that is never overstated. Max’s later revelations on his own relatable familial experiences flesh him out in a manner that brings him beyond being solely comic relief, though perhaps his character would have benefitted from more of that throughout the play, rather than in the closing quarter.
Much of the charm of this comedy-drama comes from the father-son dynamic that forms between the pair, mastered by director Philip J Morris, complete with jokes, songs, and arguments. Their back-and-forth rises to a crescendo in the play’s climax in a scene that is anticipated but retains its stomach-dropping shock. In a sparse but effective set (by Georgia Wilmot) complete with real car seats and a steering wheel on a raised platform, Clutch stops, starts, and seldom stalls in its charming portrayal of an unlikely friendship.
Clutch runs until 8th October book tickets here.