Dara O'Briain, Palace Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Dara O'Briain is a big man in a number of ways: well over 6ft, the Irishman's professional stature is similarly imposing.

Dara O'Briain is a big man in a number of ways: well over 6ft, the Irishman's professional stature is similarly imposing. In fact, it's positively bullish thanks to a series of profile-raising appearances on Parkinson, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross and three highly praised stints as guest presenter of Have I Got News For You. This exposure has marked O'Briain's ascendance into the upper tiers of the comedy world.

Two years ago his involvement on the lower-rated Live Floor Show on BBC2 ruled him out of nominations for the Perrier award. But O'Briain's journey toward a household name hasn't suffered from the lack of a comedy Oscar.

Tonight is his London West End debut and his presence comfortably fills the theatre. His set is a much-altered version of his 2004 Edinburgh show, but also owes something to his 2003 outing, especially when it comes to exploring the theme of the Irish in Britain. He has a desire not be associated with negative perceptions of the Irish, shrugging off associations with gypsies and the IRA but without ingratiating himself so much that he loses sight of his own view of the "awkwardness", (his name for the troubled relationship between England and Ireland), which, he tells the London audience, was, "predominantly your fault".

For the most part O'Briain uses Ireland and Irishness to illustrate a wider point about immigrants rather being than a platform for basic observations on blarney versus Blighty.

The material on race is progressive, and he also has a new take on religion in a tale about a marriage between a Protestant and a Catholic. At the beginning of the tale he points out that a really mixed marriage is: "when one side of the congregation is shouting mazel tov and the other side are shooting guns into the air", before going on to describe the point-scoring between the Protestants and Catholics on this, ostensibly, most blessed of occasions. It's an affectionate portrait, and untypical in that it gives the Protestants the upper hand.

O'Briain is anything but devout (his opening gag was: "The Pope walks into a bar... is it too early for that?"), yet he does confess that Catholicism is "the stickiest religion in the world", and that even if a Catholic fought for the Taliban he would find himself described by his Church as a "bad Catholic".

There is a high level of audience interaction in this show, and at times this allows O'Brian to coast (when he opens up a story to auction and the audience have to guess the ending). At other times it makes for defining moments, such as when he realises that a doctor and nurses are in the audience. His questioning of them about the tricky matter of strokes confirms the medical pecking order.

O'Briain's encore is to lead a round of applause for the audience members he has picked on. It is a big gesture from the big man.

Touring to 28 May ( www.offthekerb.co.uk)

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