When I picked up my tickets for Derren Brown’s latest live show, I was handed a small card politely requesting that journalists refrain from revealing the details of the production’s most gasp inducing moments. So refrain I will, though rest assured there are several occasions throughout the evening were I was left staring open-mouthed at the stage unable to fathom quite how he had managed to do what he just did.
Derren Brown on stage is rather different from Derren Brown on the telly. He’s more laid back, more affable, the slightly devilish persona he adopts for some of his more full-on TV stunts is absent. He’s a confident likeable performer, who unsurprisingly knows how to handle an audience.
The first half is composed of a series of illusions, some of which will be familiar to anyone who’s seen his previous stage work. But even if you have a rough idea what he’s going to do, it’s still hugely impressive to witness. This first half encompasses a game of 20 questions and a section where he asks a man to guess whether a box contained 500 or 5000 (the man would get to keep the money if he guessed correctly). There is a lot of audience participation with people being selected at random via a Frisbee hurled out into the stalls.
The second half is where the title of the show Mind Reader comes into play. After a very lengthy interval during which the audience are invited to write questions on cards before placing them – in sealed envelopes in a bowl on the stage, Derren re-emerges in the tail coat of a 1930s illusionist and explains that he is going to perform an ‘oracle act.’
Before this there was a demonstration of table spinning which was the least impressive moment of the night but I presume was there to illustrate how such things were once used as proof of paranormal powers by mediums and spiritualists capable of convincing people of eminence and intelligence, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle included.
I do not believe for a second that I have any genuine psychic ability he reminds the audience before proceeding to select envelopes from the bowl at random and answer the audience members’ questions as well as providing a baffling amount of extra information (you were born on a Monday, am I right?) He then removes his microphone and blindfolds himself before continuing to supply a huge amount of personal and highly specific information about various audience members.
Throughout the show he plays on the idea of his own fallibility, especially in the context of a live setting. At times things seem on the verge of escaping his control, but it’s revealing little to say that he remains very much on top of things, Though I don’t think even Derren foresaw the slightly over-excited woman in the audience who, when asked if she had a male friend or relative that he could phone, replied, ‘yes, my mum.’
You could spend an awfully long time trying to work out how he was doing all the things he was doing, and you may just figure some of it out though only some of it. But to spend too long trying to fathom how it was done would be to sap the joy out of this ingenious evening.
The show is at its best when it baffles you, when it leaves you giddy and dumbfounded. Derren is, of course, taking you for a ride, but you’ll go with him willingly.