According to Derren Brown, Victorian magicians drove themselves mad because of the mental trauma and sheer physical effort of perfecting and performing the legendary Oracle act on stage. Now I wasn’t quite sure if this scary build-up to Brown’s triumphant second-half climax in his new West End show was just another example of a master mentalist’s art of autosuggestion, or if it really was time to look into those eyes and be afraid – be very afraid.
Like everyone else in the Garrick auditorium, I was 100 percent convinced when he actually pulled off the Oracle trick without going potty. But then it’s impossible to imagine a maestro of mind control like Brown being bundled off in a straightjacket while telling random members of the audience what questions they’ve secretly written in sealed envelopes and then proceeding to reveal their innermost lifestyle secrets, like how many gerbils they’ve kept over the years or whether or not a lady in the Upper Circle called Stella will be moving to Greece in the near future. And how on earth did he know that someone out front had a phobia – for tinned peas?
I’m still scratching my head over the mystery of the Oracle and the other equally mind-boggling wonders in this truly flabbergasting evening, like the spooky séance sequence where a table seems to take on a peculiar after-life of its own. When eerie hymns wafted across the footlights from an old wind-up gramophone, it was almost as if Doris Stokes was about to waft on in a whirl of theatrical ectoplasm. Brown tells us that he isn’t a medium and he doesn’t possess psychic powers. Well, you could have fooled me. My mind has rarely boggled this much and my flabber has never been quite so gasted.
Resistance is pointless. Good-looking, totally engaging and punctuating his vocal delivery with those peculiar little facial ticks of his (or are they subliminal signals?), Brown is an old-fashioned showman in complete control of his audience, even when he’s not actually visible on stage at the start of a truly amazing evening (co-written and directed by his long time collaborator Andy Nyman) that harks back to the more traditional theatrical roots of magical entertainment, with plush velvet drapes and potted parlour palms adding to the music hall era ambiance.
If you’ve only ever seen Brown’s various controversy-baiting TV series, here’s a chance to enjoy the full-on live version – where the audience is integral to the magic (with each participant chosen by flying frisbee) and even the most carefully prepared trickster can potentially go belly-up.
Brown sent journalists a little note asking reviewers not to spoil the surprises in his show by revealing too much. So let’s just say that his latest evening of wonders is a magical masterpiece – and if Brown doesn’t get his second Olivier Award after this, I’ll eat my gerbil with a can of tinned peas.
- Roger Foss