Rhys James: Forgives review – quickfire comedy is packed with gags

There’s a moment in Rhys James’s 2016 show Forgives when the 25-year-old composes a letter to his 40-year-old self. He can’t have known then that the show itself would become that letter, preserved – and broadcast globally – as part of Soho theatre’s recent deal with Amazon Prime. As he turns 30 in the new year, James and the rest of us can check back in with his younger self: his generational angst, his uncertainty about his place in the world, the questions he’d pitch to the grownup he’ll one day become.

All of which makes Forgives sound more contemplative than it is. In fact, it never gives us pause to contemplate anything. This was James’s third solo show, and finds him still in the precocious stage of his development: clever, great at writing jokes, but not giving much of himself away – perhaps because (beyond his physical immaturity and romantic inadequacy, which he over-emphasises) there’s not yet much to give. These 48 minutes unfold at a clip, as if he’s desperate to keep ahead of us, forever on to the next joke before we think too hard about the last one.

It allows for minimal real engagement between James and his audience, and the overall effect is a bit mechanical. You admire the virtuosity, but you’d love him to let his guard down. As it is, the material about introducing his girlfriend to his flatmate, his paid-up membership of Generation Rent, and even those correspondences with his past and future selves (an opportunity for emotional honesty if ever there was one) are rarely more than glib set pieces.

What you get instead, which is not negligible, is a show packed with gags, by a comic who doesn’t stint on the smart. There’s some neat non-simplistic thinking amid the wisecracks about millennials versus baby boomers, several excellent blink-and-you-miss-them one-liners, and many fine apropos-of-nothing bits, like the one about meeting his own cat in the street. It’s clearly the work of a rising rather than established act; James’s recent output is superior, if still not distinguished by warmth. But it’s a decent standup set of the slick, quickfire variety.