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Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

Reasons to see: Derren Brown: Underground

Published 18 September 2017

When it was announced that the master of mind-bending manipulation and majestic feats was set to return to the West End this month, it took all our restraint to stop our eyes popping, jaws dropping and hands applauding in sheer anticipation of the show alone.

After all, to see Derren Brown live is quite unlike any other experience out there, a treat for everybody (although there is an age recommendation of 12+) which we were lucky enough to enjoy again last week at the Playhouse Theatre.

And while it would be criminal to give anything away ahead of time – fear ye not, for no show spoilers lie here – it’s safe to say that if you’re looking for one of the most absorbing evenings of entertainment in Theatreland, you need to catch the enigmatic showman before Derren Brown: Underground departs the West End again on 14 October. Here’s what we loved.

It’s the best of the best

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

While he’s perhaps best known for his mind-boggling TV shows and spectacular stunts – if you haven’t seen any, get rifling through your nearest on-demand service (or YouTube) now – Derren Brown’s world-class stature as a mentalist and illusionist really comes to the fore in his stage shows, with his bafflingly ingenious feats propelled by the some of most natural theatrical presence, charisma and stagecraft out there.

While Brown himself is forthcoming that it’s all intricate manipulation (“I am always honest about my dishonesty”), rather than real magic (sorry, Hogwarts’ recruitment agency), the sheer daring of the illusions he pulls off, from seemingly impossible predictions of events at astronomical odds, to feats of psychology which can only be put down to mind-control, make the show’s possibilities seem boundless. You constantly find yourself so giddy at the previous revelation, you don’t see the even better one coming round the corner.

His latest show, Derren Brown: Underground, is a sharply written and gratifyingly executed compilation of all his best stage hits. If you’ve been before, you might well recognise some of the illusions, but the set-up is so astoundingly absorbing that the pay-off is only all the more enjoyable for it.

The best material from one of the world’s best showmen. Entertainment: guaranteed.

A world-class showman at your fingertips

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

Of course, while many people will know Brown from the grandeur of his TV shows – being able to predict the National Lottery numbers is not a bad thing to have on your CV – where Derren Brown: Underground continuously surprises is its inherent tenderness.

On a fairly threadbare set, Brown starts the show by taking a seat in front of you, greeting you warmly before delving into its running theme of the personal secrets which define us. Speaking with a comforting fragility, his words suck you in before astonishing you, and its this one-two sucker punch which continuously lights up the stage.

Peppered with poignant personal anecdotes, Derren Brown: Underground strikes home a self-affirming – and often quite touching – message. The result is a more intimate showcase of his talents than you might expect, and it’s all the more impressive for it.

Audience participation galore (but only if you volunteer)

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

While audience participation isn’t always everybody’s cup of tea, Underground’s biggest thrills – and warmest humour – stem from its nature as an almost a one-to-one dialogue between audience and performer, so greatly involved are you as a collective.

But don’t worry if the spotlight isn’t your friend. In almost every case, Brown doesn’t force you to be involved or mock you, but instead offers audience members plenty of opportunity to play along (even by means as simple as voting for a particular cause during the interval) and stress-test the boundaries of the show for themselves.  

Not convinced, or reckon they’re all stand-ins or stooges? It’s no spoiler to reveal that frisbees are frequently thrown to select audience participants (so get practising your catching), and they can fall to any one of you, as proven when a frisbee landed on my lap way up in the Dress Circle (thankfully my notepad got me off the hook – my flatmate took it instead!).

Anything can happen

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

And Brown wants it to… *fades away mysteriously*

One finale to end them all

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

Derren Brown: Underground at the Playhouse Theatre (Photo: Mark Douet)

The one thing you know Brown will nail in every single stage show is his finale; it’s always filled with wonderment, pizzazz and pure standing ovation magnetism.

It’s safe to say the showstopping conclusion to Derren Brown: Underground is no exception, expertly showcasing how Brown has pulled every single thread – even those you were sure he didn’t – throughout the course of the evening, leaving you clasping for answers you’re simply not going to get.

Better to just go along with it, really, and appreciate a genius in his element.

The show plays at the Playhouse Theatre until 14 October.

Book your Derren Brown: Underground tickets today!

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