Derren Brown: Enigma

Adelphi Theatre, 18 June – 18 July 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Only at a Derren Brown show could I have ended up standing on stage in a curtained cabinet with a bag on my head. Only at a Derren Brown show could someone in that position have been the envy of nearly the entire Adelphi Theatre audience.

Brown is enough of a household name that I probably don’t have to explain what it is he does (just as well, since I’m sworn to secrecy on the specifics). Suffice to say a good deal of what happens on stage during Enigma is baffling to the point of being unsettling.

Yet when he flings frisbees into the audience – a random method for picking volunteers – a Mexican wave of hands shoots up in its wake. Everyone’s eager to be unsettled personally by Brown. That isn’t to say he’s lost his spooky edge, just that the more famous he becomes, the more people are excited rather than disturbed by his act.

The mere mention of placing the audience in a trance state is still enough to scare a few people away in the interval. Those that remain react mostly with laughter as he toys with his entranced volunteers, but certain stunts – the ones that place the sleepwalking participants in physical danger, or appear to – are greeted with concerned silence.

Luckily, the only indication that Brown might be going mad with power is his patter, which gets a little snarkier with every live show. If he were a stand-up comedian, some of the lines he throws out would get him labelled lowbrow or puerile, but who’s going to challenge a master mentalist if he claims the five random words you provide are evidence of deviant sexual appetites?

Brown’s live performance is still utterly, awe-inspiringly mystifying, and that accolade is magnified when you consider the fairly limited repertoire of the traditional mentalist. As well as refreshing old faithful techniques with new vehicles – in this case, a version of children’s game Guess Who – he’s recharged his palette with new material gleaned from international sources, forcing himself not to rely solely on his tried-and-tested talent for reading body language.

Even with a privileged close-up view, a critic’s eye, a background in technical theatre and a glimpse of something I’m not sure I was supposed to see, I can’t come up with one cohesive, rational and plausible explanation for what I experienced on stage during Enigma.

But since Brown is, as always, adamant that the psychics and mediums that performed the tricks before him were all a bunch of frauds, the answer can’t be that the spirits did it. The answer is that Derren Brown did it. If anything, that’s more impressive – and more unsettling.

Written by Derren Brown and Andy Nyman

Crew includes Andy Nyman (director)

Cast includes Derren Brown

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