Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Derren Brown: Mind Reader

An "Evening of Wonders"
Garrick Theatre
(2008)

Publicity image

The curtain at the Garrick Theatre is decorated with a garish portrait of Derren Brown holding a crystal ball and sporting the attire of a 1930s medium. A devil sits on each shoulder perhaps hinting at the Christian roots of spiritualism, a strong theme in the journey the audience experiences with Brown.

The curtain rises to reveal Will Bowen's chintzy and velvet-adorned stage, complete with fake palm trees and suitably mystical lighting.

Through the pre-show material and the setting of the stage Brown pays homage to his performing roots in acknowledging the spiritualism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

However it quickly transpires this is merely a masquerade and Brown does much to distance himself from the fraudulent manipulation of earlier spiritualists, repeatedly stating that he is not psychic and cannot read minds.

Brown uses this show to parody his more spiritual predecessors, at once recognising their influence on his own performance and at the same time discrediting their claims and redefining his own show with his own rules.

This performance employs techniques commonly used by earlier psychics, complete with inanimate objects seemingly moving of their own accord and Brown appearing to read the audience's mind using the stage technique of cold reading.

A screen is used at the back of the stage onto which is projected messages to introduce the audience to the performance. Brown makes interesting use of gorillas in the opening minutes to demonstrate the audience's own limitations. This performance is a lesson in the limitations of the conscious mind if nothing else.

There is no denying that Brown has tremendous natural stage presence. He is self-depreciatingly funny, but actually delivers quite impressive magic tricks. The performance is enthralling and it is impossible to think of plausible explanations for every element of the show.

As you would expect from Brown, audience participation and challenging the divide between audience and stage are key elements in this performance. Indeed the audience frequently become the entertainment themselves.

Brown randomly selects members of the audience by firing red Frisbees out into the stalls, dress and royal circles. When one lands on my lap and neither of my neighbours is willing to take it, I reluctantly make my way towards the stage, filled with in trepidation.

This close up it is easy to see how influential and strong a personality Brown is, and I obediently do his bidding in the strange twilight that is the stage, with the bright lights shielding you from the audience. Brown's mastery of influencing others must be recognised if nothing else.

The performance builds up in layers, including the creative use of a banana, a gorilla (again) and a sealed box which remains suspended from the top of the stage throughout the performance.

Brown uses the example of Conan Doyle, the master of the rational, being taken in by a fraudulent spiritualist. Having acknowledged these roots he deconstructs the theology behind it and goes to great lengths to distance himself from the religion.

This was a compelling performance that kept the audience utterly transfixed for the duration despite the sweltering heat of this unseasonably hot May evening. Brown entertains by offering something a little different that appeals to a wider audience that may not otherwise attend the theatre.

Until 7th June

Reviewer: Eva Ritchie