Master of mind manipulation Derren Brown is bringing his stage show to Yorkshire. Nick Ahad spoke to him.
Derren Brown wants everyone to come and see his latest stage performance. The only problem is he won’t reveal a single thing about it.
When I glance over my notes and realise he has not let even the slightest detail slip, it’s easy to wonder if Brown has pulled one of his Jedi mind tricks. In truth, it’s much more simple than that. He’s not told me anything about the show and has apologetically admitted that he won’t because he doesn’t want to ruin the surprise.
Brown is the ultimate showman and an important part of his act is the big reveal. That moment when the audience, as one, look around and wonder “how on earth did he do that”? So, for the record, Svengali, the new show by Derren Brown, even though there are no details available to print, should be well worth seeing.
Brown is – well, it’s hard to say what he is. A magician? Psychological illusionist? Even he doesn’t seem to know.
“I honestly don’t know, but I don’t like to think about it too much because I don’t want to undo it,” he says. “All of what I do was borne out of the fact that when I was younger I had a desire to say, ‘Look at me, aren’t I clever?’
“Fortunately, it’s something I have grown out of. I’m in a much more interesting and grown up position now.
“Psychic, illusionist – I’m just doing the things that I find interesting and worthwhile. I try to use magic, for want of a better word, to do things that are more interesting than simply doing tricks.
“I’m not sure how people view that, but hopefully, it’s just me.”
Fortunately for Brown “just me” has proved more than fascinating, so much so that Channel 4 recently dedicated a whole evening to the showman – the title he agrees is probably the most appropriate definition of what he does.
The evening of programmes featured an hour-long revealing documentary of Brown at his home, where he showed off some of the highly skilled portraits he paints – his caricatures have been the subject of exhibitions. The evening also included a selection of the television shows he has created in the decade since he first was seen on our screens. Viewers voted for their favourite to be screened, which turned out to be The Heist, in which Brown somehow manipulated four ordinary people so that, with various visual and aural triggers, they held a daylight armed robbery. The channel could also have chosen the TV special where Brown predicted the results of the National Lottery, the one where he played a game of Russian Roulette with his own head and a loaded gun or the one where he claimed to have a found a guaranteed system for winning at the races.
The most surprising thing of all for viewers was that the man who has made a living from manipulating ordinary people in to doing pretty much anything he likes – sometimes without even being there – not only has legions of fans, but is seemingly shy, self effacing and unassuming.
Indeed, the strangest thing about Brown is that there is nothing strange about him at all. He is funny, intelligent, self-deprecating. Nothing in fact, like the dark and mysterious persona he adopts for his TV shows to demonstrate the powers beyond our comprehension. There is no doubt that were he up to his tricks a couple of hundred years ago he would have either been worshipped as a god or burnt at the stake.
However, it is in his stage shows, a number of which have been broadcast by Channel 4, that Brown’s sense of humour and mischief really become apparent.
“I really do like being on stage,” he admits. “Compared to television I have a lot more control, it is a lot more relaxed and loose.
“It’s also nothing to do with that old thing of wanting to show off,” he adds with a laugh at himself. “It’s about the fact that it’s more immediate and I can, well, I suppose the word is play, with the audience a lot more – which makes it more fun for me as well.
“I think the stage shows are very simply a lot more ‘me’.”
A loyal audience built over those 10 years celebrated by Channel 4 means that Brown is in a privileged position of selling out shows wherever he goes – although there are still a few tickets left for each of his Yorkshire venues on this latest tour.
“I am incredibly spoilt by the fact that people take a chance and buy a ticket for my show – even though I really can’t tell you too much about it.”
Derren Brown: Svengali, Bradford St George’s Hall, April 4, 5, 6. Futurist Theatre, Scarborough, May 1, 2. Sheffield City Hall, May 3, 4.