Derren Brown – ‘Miracle’ Man
‘Tell no-one about the show,’ says mentalist Derren Brown in his seventh outing on the stage, ‘Miracle’, which is a bit disingenuous considering he’s all over our TV screens like a cheap suit. Britain’s most beloved showman can always be relied upon to give audiences thrills and a few shivers even if this time around, although he’s astounding as ever, something nagged at me that at first I couldn’t put my finger on.
Having never seen him perform live before I was convinced to attend this time by his spiel; that in his central set-piece he was going to debunk phoney faith healers by performing his own miracles. Much magic leaves me cold. After a spell of fascination with it as a teenager, during which time I read, saw and learned way too much, I could tell a tell and feel a force, which robbed the magic of its, er, magic. Brown reignited my interest by going after something fresh. He’s populist without being condescending, and he places the idea of mentalism in a wider context.
In his first book ‘Tricks of the Mind’ there’s more about the art than you’d expect, and some of it is controversial. But that’s not quite what we get in ‘Miracle’. The show’s first half is smart but fairly standard stuff, tricked up with fun graphics and portentous announcements. The second half’s centrepiece is genuinely bothersome, including a demonstration of transferred sight and blindness that had me lying awake in bed thinking through its uses in a crime novel.
He gives pep-talks about risk and positivity, and doesn’t so much address the audience as keep up a continuous barrage of sound, racing here and there, constantly talking. When we get to the faith healing section, an enticing opening montage introduces the subject before Brown debunks the faith healers by duplicating their feats on the audience (a West End audience being rather tougher than a revival tent, I imagine).
Obviously he’s not about to give away his secrets but he doesn’t talk about why it works. He could do this without revealing anything more. Instead the subject is dropped and the show duplicates a faith healing event almost too perfectly, so that we’re left to wander out into the night more puzzled than when we entered.
Now of course this is what such a performer is meant to do – but if the expectation is set up that he’ll be parting a veil on charlatans and he doesn’t, then it must be counted a qualified success. Never mind – what’s there is mind-boggling enough. Brown doesn’t do tricks; he’s out to change attitudes, and the bits where he’s honest are easily the best. Required to chuck a frisbee into the audience he warns; ‘I’m a gay man, I can’t throw’ – more truth and less chat would be welcome.
Be warned; the show is extremely audience-interactive.