Derren Brown: Enigma @ Adelphi Theatre, London

performed by
Derren Brown

directed by
Andy Nyman
There are some subtle but definite differences between Derren Brown’s television persona and his stage persona.

He’s quite a bit ruder, for one thing: it’s difficult to picture the dapper, devilish chap from off the telly making jokes about bedroom activities that necessitate the use of safety words or doing a passable impression of Stewie from Family Guy.

But then, as the introductory voice-overs of those programmes always remind their viewers, there’s a good measure of showmanship to what Brown does.
Therefore on stage he comes across as more affable and more approachable much more of an ordinary bloke otherwise people might think twice about coming up to assist in his routines.

Audience members are, as ever, arbitrarily selected by means of Frisbees which he flings out in to the stalls and the circles. Those who have the good luck/misfortune (delete according to how alarming you find the prospect) to catch one might find themselves asked to recall a childhood memory, which is then seemingly fished straight from their subconscious, or to assist in a Polaroid version of Guess Who (or Guess Whom as Derren insists on calling it). The audience, meanwhile, seems to be divided into those who would sell their mother if it meant a chance to go up on stage and those who suddenly lose the use of their arms when the Frisbee spins their direction.

This new show, Enigma, directed by his regular collaborator Andy Nyman, has less of a guiding pattern than his previous shows. It’s a rather patchwork affair, encompassing Cold War psychics, somnambulist trances and the visual penetration of tin foil. His interest in the techniques of the Victorian spiritualists remains and he recreates a spirit cabinet on stage complete with tinkling bells and automatic writing, but fascinating as this is, it feels a little like something left over from his more focused Mind Reader show. The big final reveal also echoes some of his previous stage shows in its set up and pay off.

Those familiar with his work will recognise the way in which he appears to let his audience in on how he’s doing what he’s doing at one point plausibly describing how signs of tension are readable in a person’s body language only to then go and do something completely bamboozling that seems to defy explanation. It will also come as little surprise that if, say, there is a thing that seems initially to fox him, he will leave it to sit unsolved at the side of the stage and appear to ponder it from time to time, only to come back to it later (possibly just before the interval, for added impact) and pull the answer from air. He’s become adept at a kind of Columbo-ish ‘just one more thing’ moment in which he calls back volunteers just as they’re leaving the stage in order to administer one last surprise.

That’s not to say there’s not much to confound and astonish in Enigma, because there is. There are several gasp-inducing moments and more than once the audience are left open-mouthed and wondering ‘how on earth did he do that?’ But, perhaps inevitably, over-familiarity with his work has dulled some of that wonder, a sensation not helped by the fact that this show is a bit baggier than some of his previous stage productions and not quite so tautly constructed. He remains a charismatic and expert performer; he makes the theatre feel smaller than it is, successfully involving everyone in the room, but in Enigma there is an occasional feeling that he’s treading water, that this is not him at his best.

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