Nine years after his first performance at the Palace Theatre, master illusionist Derren Brown is back in residence. The last time I saw him in a live show was five years ago. On that occasion, I confess to having been completely overwhelmed and astonished by his act. But I am sorry to say that on this viewing I found myself not quite so overwhelmed, even though this show is just as cleverly and slickly delivered and provides splendid entertainment.
Before we proceed, I need to insert a caveat. Mr Brown doesn't like journo-types – or even members of the audience - giving away secrets about what the show contains, a matter which I am sure everyone can appreciate, and I am happy to comply. So, I can't reveal details about the tricks, illusions or whatever you want to call the things which go on in the show. That, however, doesn't make writing a review particularly easy as Mr Brown himself readily acknowledged, but there are still some salient points to make.
Derren Brown seems to have a very large and committed following, and they mostly seem to be under 40 years-old, most well under that age. I am not sure exactly what that tells us about that segment of the population, or indeed what it tells us about the over 40s, and I am not going to speculate in case I offend one group of another. It's interesting, though, demographically speaking at least.
There's little in the way of glitz in this show as one might find in other ventures by magicians, or more flamboyant illusionists. Mr Brown doesn't wear any sparkling, sequin-covered costumes and the set is a sombre kind of affair that looks like a run-down, disused chapel from the Welsh valleys. Mr Brown doesn't even wear a complete suit – just black trousers, a jacket and a waistcoat. It's all rather casual and relaxed, if smart. The persona on display is more akin to a university lecturer, or a scientist, someone we can believe in and trust. And that is key. Our belief and trust in Mr Brown is vital to prevent other thoughts from straying into our minds along the lines of the “I may be being hoodwinked” variety. Mr Brown repeatedly tells us that he has no psychic powers, and since there is no chance at all that he has supernatural powers of the alien kind, the feats he performs, astounding though they seem, are tricks of one kind or another. That realisation dented my enthusiasm somewhat, even though I still found much to applaud. Moreover, my colleague, who was as equally astounded by events at the show we saw 5 years ago, was equally less impressed this time round and hell-bent on a mission to unravel just how the feats are contrived. I won't bore you with his hypotheses, but they made some sense. I'm not so sure, though, that many of the other members of the audience were at all bothered about how everything is achieved – almost everyone just seemed to be having a great time. And does it matter a jot how the illusions, or tricks if you prefer, are devised and executed? Does it matter with any magician, or any illusionist, or for that matter with any musical or play? The answer really is no. What matters is whether you enjoy the atmosphere and the ingenuity. And both those things are on offer here in spades.
In spite of his relatively subdued and un-glitzy apparel, Mr Brown has a ready wit, a considerable intellect and bags of charm, and those things make him charismatic and immensely likeable even if he has a tendency to ramble on a bit about psychological stuff – but that is all part of the act and the showmanship. Because in spite of his lack of Liberace style in the costume department, this is a showman of the very first order – make no mistake of that. However, I felt a sense of déjà vu about some of the tricks and illusions in this programme. That doesn't mean there is any repetition of ones I saw before, as far as I can remember, but it all seems to be very much along similar lines, which may well account for the decline in the astonishment level I experienced. That said, there is still plenty to marvel at and wonder about, and the show is as polished and professional as any you're ever likely to see.
And one final point: if you're interested in art, you might also like to know that Derren Brown is an extremely accomplished and talented portrait artist. Do a quick search on-line to find some of his paintings – they are hugely impressive.