There is something about James Sherwood that reminds me of Richard Stilgoe. It may be the reddish beard, but it is probably the keyboard which sits imposingly on the tiny stage. He is nothing like Richard Stilgoe. Therein lies the problem with piano-based comedy.
Namely that it is very difficult to do without looking a bit, well, pompous. Which is a problem here as Sherwood comes across as anything but. In fact, he is positively self-effacing (witness the gentle asides about his weight and his suit, neither of which appear to be a cause for concern) and exceedingly courteous in his, admittedly devious, interactions with the audience.
Sherwood is on a mission to understand the difference between good and bad people. Taking his first stop on this journey at the songs of the likes of Wham!, Andy Williams and Michael Jackson, Sherwood derives much of his best material from deconstruction of the anodyne lyrics. On the subject of 'Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad', for instance, he concludes that Meatloaf got it about right since he had 'never considered two-thirds to be one of the more sinister fractions.'
Sherwood has helpfully documented all of his own good and bad qualities in themed exercise books, the covers of which provide effective visual gags. It is Sherwood's eloquence that is the real attraction here, though, his lines delivered with understatement and an ironic detachment which matches his air of British reserve. This is not humour which batters you about the head, but rather that which prods and cajoles, ushering you carefully towards something rather wonderful.
The troublesome elements in this set are the songs about good and bad, the titular subjects being symbolic of what Sherwood has learned and possessing the kind of names which mean that the first few rhymes are signposted. Nevertheless, they are well crafted and clever, staying just the right side of Stilgoe territory. Any quibbles with Sherwood's chosen medium are minor, though, and the striking musical finale is very entertaining, if somewhat unsettling in the context of what has gone before.
Sherwood promises good things. Keep an eye on him.