The Critics
The Sun rose once more over that dingy boarding house in the heart of County Meath - the place where the comedians stayed when they were passing through, the place where the net curtains had been partially rotted by the condensation on the windows. There was one room that the venal, wart-encrusted proprietress was particularly proud of. She called it the extemporisers' suite: Dave Allen and Eddie Izzard were the only people that had stayed there. Their old skin had been swept into neat piles at each end of the room, and the room was kept empty as a shrine to their talents. So where were those unearthly groans coming from that morning? Surely ... the skin-piles couldn't have merged to create a new living being?

Snapping out of a day-dream at Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket, to see the whey-faced form of Perrier Award-winner Dylan Moran sidle into view, it seems like they might have. Allen's tipsy roguishness and Izzard's spiralling digressions are so much to the fore in Dylan's hour upon the stage, that at times you feel they must be hiding behind the curtain, operating him by remote control. Thankfully, things are not as cut and dried as they seem - there are other moments when the progress Moran has made over the past year or so is dramatic enough to banish all thoughts of his act's comedic provenance.

He's lost some of the sixth-form sexism, for a start. And Moran now seems to have the stage-craft to back up his natural arrogance. The transition from packed cupboard-under-the-stairs Edinburgh sweatbox-type venues to the wide-open spaces of the West End stage is often a painful one, but Moran makes it look easy. In fact his rumpled demeanour and faux inebriate teetering acquire a new grandeur in front of a velvet backdrop. And there are times when his dream of Wildean epigrams hissed through clenched teeth almost comes true. At his best - as when a group of men living together proceed in a couple of twists of the tongue from being "hygiene-conscious" to being uncomfortably aware that their "lack of hygiene had created things that were conscious" - Moran's wordplay is deft in the extreme.

Because he's so funny when he's being himself, it's doubly annoying when he opts to be someone else. Moran's sharpest routines inscribe eloquent hyperbolic parabolas - from claiming he feels "fine" to admitting he lives underground with an old woman he barely knows and sucks stones for money. And some of his bursts of comic invention (especially the one that ends "drowned in a dentist's piss") are truly original. So it's disappointing to find him still occasionally tailing off into such lazy, sub-Izzardian laughter cues as "fish" and "trousers". But it will be fascinating to see how Moran's cynical intelligence responds to the opportunities that are opening up for him. His response to one rather sycophantic bit of applause - "Please don't do that: I'm not a jazz band" - suggests things could get quite ugly.

The Perrier Best Newcomer Milton Jones finds adapting to the West End stage slightly more of a challenge. The leisurely pace of his act allows the audience a little too much time to contemplate how many times taller he would have to be (six) for his head to reach the top of the stage curtain. And Jones commits not one but three serious crimes against comedy: compounding an unsettling facial resemblance to Jeremy Hardy by giving his act not just a false start, but a false end as well.

Having set himself a mountain to climb, Jones gets well beyond the snow- line. His character routines betray his acting background a little too easily, but some of his (very) conventional one-liners - "Do all Chinese children who play the piano know a tune called `Knife and Fork?' " or "My Auntie Marge has been ill for so long we've changed her name to `I can't believe she's not better' " - have a nice crisp ring to them. A more hard-hitting Tim Vine or a college-educated Jethro; if he can steer a course between these two nightmare extremes, Jones has a bright future.

The Perrier Pick of the Fringe: Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket, SW1 (0171 494 5558). Rich Hall and Dominic Holland (tonight); Bill Bailey and Armstrong & Miller (Sun 13 Oct); Al Murray and Alan Parker - Urban Warrior (20 Oct).