Driving instructor extraordinaire Max has just three rules. No drinking. No hangovers. And absolutely no one touches the radio. By the end of Will Jackson’s gently rendered new play (a product of the Bush theatre’s new writing scheme), young student Tyler will have broken pretty much every rule in the book. Max and Tyler will sing together. Drink together. Crash together. They’re lovely companions – for each other and the audience – in a play that might have felt cliched but carves out a new path of its own.
Geoffrey Aymer brings a full force of personality to the role of Max, who delivers every instruction like a performance and whose booming voice threatens to blow the blooming doors off. At first, Tyler (played with tender poise by Charlie Kafflyn in his stage debut) is as meek as a newborn lamb. But as the two drive around Birmingham together, they begin to mirror each other – an idea reflected effectively by movement director Maggie Bain. Every time the car stalls, Tyler and Max lurch as one and when the two sing together, the car seems to glow with feelings of freedom and acceptance.
Philip J Morris’s production is at its best when it doesn’t appear to be trying too hard. After Tyler stalls for the umpteenth time, Max leans out the window and screams at the hooting drivers: “Leave him alone, he’s trying his best!” When the two fight after a particularly ropey lesson (“I always tell you! You never listen!”), they’re practically father and son.
Early on in their lessons, Max takes Tyler to a road lined with drug dealers he knows by name; it’s a quiet road and the perfect place to practise emergency stops. It’s a striking detail and one of the few references to the world outside the car (here represented by two plastic car seats rather awkwardly placed atop a platform). It would have been nice for this Birmingham-based writer to have looked outside with his writing as well as in. There are a few dramatic crescendos that feel too explosive for a play of this shape and size – but I enjoyed sticking around for the ride.
• At the Bush theatre, London, until 8 October.