What some might not realise if they have just seen the work that Derren Brown performs on his TV shows, particularly the big stunt specials, is that he is incredible at commanding the audience. Perhaps no surprise what with him being a magician (mentalist, illusionist, Jedi Knight, pyscho, whichever you prefer), but his ability to captivate and mystify thousands of people in a room together is something that you really have to experience first-hand to truly appreciate.
Currently touring with the aptly titled Showman show, Derren continues to amaze and baffle audiences, all the while wrapping it in a narrative that is surprising, at times creepy and ultimately beautiful. I won’t go into details about the actual content of the show, as audience members are requested to keep tight-lipped about what actually takes place, but I hope I can encourage to experience this for yourselves, something that will likely stay with you for some time.
If you have just experienced Derren Brown through his specials, perhaps where he gives someone the courage to land an aeroplane after pilots are taken ill or convinces someone that they are living through a zombie apocalypse to teach them a lesson about life, you would be forgiven for not really realising that magic is his true stock in trade. The stage shows still maintains the air of psychology and suggestion that he is best known for, but the more traditional elements of magic come more to the fore in a way that his more modern television work perhaps lacks. This show is no different and there are a number of traditional tricks right from his first appearance. There is still the talk of manipulating minds and a fair amount of hypnotism, but there is also lots for those that may be less interested in some of his more notorious work. What the framing device still manages to do though, is to make it feel fresh and exciting, even though he has been at it for many years.
The psychological framing device also allows him to craft a narrative throughout the show, giving a structure and allowing seemingly unconnected stunts and tricks a cohesion. The show was originally intended to run before the pandemic struck, although it has clearly gone through a re-write since then. It might well have had much the same structure and much the same content originally, but the events after the last couple of years add a poignancy to it and something that obviously becomes a deeply personal show for Derren Brown. He brings in reference to his childhood and relationship with family members that would be relatable to most, if not all, that will have experienced the past two years
That isn’t to say that the show is depressing; in fact, it is far from that. Instead, it is one of the most uplifting evenings of entertainment you are likely to have. Derren Brown is known for having a sinister edge to the work he makes, with hints of the macabre often running through. This is no different, although perhaps to a lesser extent. Even with those touches though, the show’s message is far from those dark themes. It is about love and showing it to those that you hold dear.
You could sense from the audience a real energy that was created throughout the evening. There was the slight trepidation at first, the laughter that was had throughout, there was the wonder at the seemingly impossible powers and absolute bafflement when seemingly most of us could no longer determine what was exactly real. Most of all though, as we stood to give our ovations at the close of the show, there was a buzz of positivity.
For is that not the true power of a showman? To convince a room of people, even just for a moment, that anything is truly possible.