Will Jackson’s new Bush Theatre commission, Clutch, is pleasant enough. It's a good-natured two-hander with an odd couple premise, undone by uneven writing and structural flaws.
Geoffrey Aymer’s Max is an avuncular driving instructor with a booming voice, all bonhomie, dad jokes and some personal troubles. During their lessons in Birmingham, an unlikely friendship develops between Max and his teenage pupil, Tyler (Charlie Kafflyn), a fidgety and sweet sound engineer navigating the uncertainties of his teenage years and the Highway Code.
It’s suggested that Max is struggling to adjust to a new life as much as Tyler. There’s plenty of potential in the premise—the enclosed space, social and ethical boundaries to be breached and secrets to be revealed. But it feels thin and its emotional climax is unearned.
The first half is a mildly amusing montage of roundabouts and parallel parking and barked instructions. Too much of the 55-minute running time is wasted on undercooked jokes—time that could have been more fruitfully deployed developing Max’s character and backstory to which the play turns in the final scenes.
I believed Tyler’s nerdy awkwardness but less so in Max—Aymer gives it huge gusto but the character is underwritten. There is some genuine chemistry between the leads, especially when they burst into unison singing to the car radio, but when the play makes a sharp left into more serious and sentimental themes (domestic troubles; the AIDS crisis) the effect feels jarring and schmaltzy.
It’s a shame because this could have been a diverting ride.
Reviewer: Tim Fox