“Never show anyone” says Christian Bale’s character Borden in the 2006 illusion-fueled thriller The Prestige. “They’ll beg you and they’ll flatter you for the secret, but as soon as you give it up… you’ll be nothing to them”. Lucky for us illusionist, mentalist and downright smiliest hypnotist you’re ever likely to meet, Derren Brown doesn’t seem interested in playing by those rules. Because for his latest collaboration with genius writer-director Andy Nyman, Derren Brown’s Infamous isn’t only willing to tell you how he achieves all this outstanding wizardry, but for those of you who behave yourselves – he’s about to show you.
Like the show’s namesake Brown has engraved his own notorious reputation by bending not only the minds of his countless “victims” but also the rules of up-close and large-scale trickery. In the twenty-one years he’s been in the public eye we’ve seen him do everything from bewitching smug bar crawlers to captivating mind experiments, live-broadcast death games and possibly his most spectacular stunt to date – encouraging a directionless average Joe to make something of his life by placing him inside his own, convincing real-world battle for apocalyptic survival. Whether you’re a skeptic or not, you’re enthralled. But for Infamous, his sixth stage show, Brown returns to his original, live environment where once again nothing is quite what it seems and each evening’s events are as unpredictable as they are meticulously planned (you try and keep track).
Before even entering the auditorium everybody waiting seems unusually on edge for a night at the theatre. A woman beside me at the bar laughs nervously with her mate about what mysterious and thought provoking happenings the next couple of hours might have in store. The laughs simmer down as she nurses her beer with a pondering look and after a few awkward moments asks “… do you think he’s watching us right now?”. Brown’s reputation precedes him by such a length that even his own paying fans are crippled with suspicion and anxiety, and he hasn’t even done anything yet (unless he has – you’re fucked either way really). The atmosphere thickens even once you’ve found your seat. No music. No safety curtain. No comfort barrier to distinguish when the event begins or if it’s already started. Just a few familiar trademarks of the show’s renowned director Andy Nyman, collaborative mastermind behind many of Derren’s most successful projects as well as the terrifying, though sadly now concluded fright-fest Ghost Stories. Any one lucky enough to have caught Ghost Stories in its fun, terror-inducing run at the Lyric Hammersmith will recognise Infamous‘ dust laden floor, the weathered and cold cellar-brick backdrop and the small, iconic prop behind any great mystery-thriller – the empty, wooden chair at the centre of the stage. It’s all good to go and folks are getting nervous, but it’s not long before the lights dim, the crowds quieten and… that’s all I’m allowed to say.
Looking back on a body of work like Derren Brown’s you begin to notice significant similarities with other soughters of suspense like Alfred Hitchcock. Someone who put the audience experience strictly before anything else and refused to take the importance of tension lightly. So much so that on the release of his 1960 film Psycho, Hitchcock insisted that any latecomers not be admitted to the theater and that audiences keep all the film’s twists and secrets to themselves. A plea now personally endorsed by Brown himself throughout. Sadly, I can’t tell you what happens in those two and a half hours inside. Mainly because the events are likely to differ with each performance, but also because I’ve taken the oath, I’m sworn to secrecy, and the last person I plan on deceiving is Derren Brown (he can do things). But what I can tell you is that Derren Brown’s Infamous is without a doubt one of his most engaging, spectacular and personally involving shows to date. Unlike many other well-known individuals, Brown has never shown much interest in presenting his craft as anything more than pure psychology, illusion and painstakingly perfected sleight-of-hand. Others happily continue to make a lucrative living via the supernatural and paranormal guise of ‘psychic reader’, ‘medium’ or ‘vessel to the other side’. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing in as many words a very short but incredibly valid quote from a point in the performance in which he states “…if the dear loved ones you’ve lost really could come back and tell you all the things they need to tell you, the last place they’d choose to do it is in a showbiz setting like this on a stage in front a thousand strangers”*. In the best possible way, Infamous is likely to make you question and re-evaluate many lifelong beliefs you had before you went in, presenting the audience with tangible, irrefutable facts before your very eyes as opposed to only belief or faith alone. And for those who prefer to sit on the fence with such things, or even those who firmly made their minds up a long time ago, be prepared to have your suspicions reaffirmed, with a well deserved shot of smug. Brown has always had a fascination with letting his audience in on the mystery, taking them behind the smoke and mirrors, often to a more perplexing and intriguing level. But what could be considered career-suicide for some only causes Brown’s supporters to come back again and again. They trust him. And it seems for this reason that for the first time ever Brown cordially invites a considerable chunk of the audience to voluntarily view part of the performance from a totally unique and surprisingly candid perspective, all so they can experience and see first hand what’s really going on amongst all the “magic”.
If like many you’ve only had the opportunity to admire his TV work do yourself a favour and finally see him live in his natural environment. With over 80 dates you’ve no excuse. You’ll be hard pushed to find a pulse-twitching, heart-stopping experience that measures up – in the theatre or otherwise.
You’ll love this if:
You’re a fan of Derren Brown and anything intellectually stimulating.
You enjoy the unknown and a few fun, harmless frights.
You’re open to new experiences.
You probably won’t if:
You’re a cynical, smug, moaning toss-pot who’s convinced he’s cleverer, yet you you still pronounce his first name as “Darren”.