Possessor of the most terrifying goatee since Ming the Merciless, Derren Brown opened his new show of mental manipulation and psychological illusion last night. Matthew Amer protected his fragile mind.
This could be the trickiest First Night Feature I have ever had to write. What do you say about a show from which the performer has specifically asked you not to mention sections you would normally consider highlights.
As the performer in question is Derren Brown, possibly the written request that accompanied press tickets last night is filled with mind control to guarantee good reviews. He needn’t have bothered.
Brown is somewhat of a phenomenon. There is no-one else performing his brand of psychological illusion on this scale, no ‘magician’ so instantly recognisable to the British public. He is intriguing, charismatic, scary, safe and immensely watchable.
On television we have seen him progress from quick-fire street tricks to larger illusions on a much grander scale; playing Russian roulette, debunking mediums and transforming members of the public into armed robbers.
His new production, An Evening Of Wonders, blends all of this and is, to adapt a footballing phrase, an evening of two halves.
The first is early Brown; playful, messing with the audience, mixing clever psychological trickery with cheeky schoolboy humour. It is pure show, filled with the card tricks and mind reading that first brought Brown to public attention.
The second indulges Brown’s passion for the history of magic, illusion and mental manipulation. He emerges from the interval a more serious character. Gone, for the most part, is the cheeky chappy from Croydon. Instead we have a man intent on recreating the Victorian mind reading Oracle act, while simultaneously giving us a little history lesson to boot.
The production does not have the shock value of some of Brown’s previous work. Any audience gasps come purely from amazement at the feats before them, rather than life-endangering antics or glittery pizzazz. It gives you, I think, a clever dissection of Brown’s interests as a performer.
Who knows how Brown does what he does? There are theories and ideas; to go into them here would be to spoil the fun. He tells us it is all a trick, but you would have to be a mind reader or a magician yourself to fathom his seemingly supernatural secrets.