Sunday 18 February 2018

'Dublin stands out in terms of audience energy' - Derren Brown set to blow our Irish minds with 'Miracle'

British illusionist Derren Brown arrives at the Dorchester Hotel in central London ahead of the Laurence Olivier theatre awards on March 21, 2010.
British illusionist Derren Brown arrives at the Dorchester Hotel in central London ahead of the Laurence Olivier theatre awards on March 21, 2010.
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Do yourself a favour and don't read the reviews of Derren Brown's new show 'Miracle' before you see it at Dublin's Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

It's not that the critics have been cruel.  The reviews are, in fact, stellar, but Britain's top mentalist/illusionist is keeping schtum on the main topic so that the act will be all the more effective for the surprise.

Speaking to ahead of his Dublin run (wrapping up on Saturday May 28), he said that even though he always feel that whatever he's doing at the time "is the best thing I've done", this show in particular is "very bold".

"Without giving too much away, the second half in particular [is bold]," he said.

"I had no idea in the dress rehearsal with the first audience how it would go because it's quite mad and quite out there.  But it makes it a very rewarding show to perform.  It keeps me present and engaged with it.

"It makes it huge fun and also I've kind of found it to the most eye-opening of shows in terms of what I've learned and seen.  The response to it has sometimes been extraordinary in a way that previous shows have not."

Derren Browne
Derren Browne

Having toured extensively with a new show every two years since 2003, Londoner Brown (41) has his favourite locations in which to perform - and Dublin ranks in his top two.

Asked if we're a more suggestible bunch than our British neighbours, he says, "In terms of suggestibility I don’t think there’d be much of a statistical difference. 

"But what there is a difference in, and any touring person will say this, is Dublin and one or two other places on the touring calendar are stand outs in terms of audience energy. 

"To us that sense of vibrancy and alertness and engagement is really rewarding.  It probably does affect overall levels of suggestibility and helps me with what I’m doing as an audience that’s responsive and into it helps me achieve the things I need to achieve. 

"It’s a delight to go out and do the show in Dublin."

Brown is probably best known for his TV series and specials, which have thrust often unwitting members of the public into difficult, if not nightmare, situations, and made for hugely entertaining and compelling TV.

Derren Brown on his Ghost Train ride at Thorpe Park
Derren Brown on his Ghost Train ride at Thorpe Park

There was the time he managed to convince someone to 'assassinate' Stephen Fry, and the time he predicted the winning Lottery numbers.  For the special 'Apocalypse', he convinced a man that he had woken up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. 

Some of his stage and TV work has involved debunking psychics and faith healers and convincing atheists they're having a religious experience.  He was raised a Christian but is now an atheist.

Despite the success of his TV endeavours, however, he finds the stage a much more natural fit.

"[TV] is a very long process, generally a lot of battling budgetary issues, there’s a huge amount of people involved, you don’t quite get the creative control you’d want.  With the stage show it’s much more adrenalin filled, and it's hugely enjoyable even if you’ve had a terrible day."

Placing the public in seemingly dangerous or stressful situations is something that takes a phenomenal amount of planning over eight or nine months.  There are legal issues and duty of care issues, but Brown says that in all the years of filming they've never had any issues with any of the subjects.

"They always invariably come out of it having taken a huge amount from it," he says.

"It might be a dark journey to get there but we’re there every step of the way.  With Apocalypse we made sure there was the right amount of hope and comfort there at every stage. He found out his family were alive, it was a safe space, he knew he was not in danger in the environment."

He adds, "Invariably it’s funny how we tell the story to ourselves.  If your experience has been quite dark and then ends in a positive way then you will be happy with that experience.

"If you go to an interview you tell your weaknesses first and finish on a positive.  How many holidays have been ruined and films ruined by a terrible last act? 

"It’s important that what people go through is ultimately very positive for them and they’re pleased with the experience.  They often find it emotional to watch.  We always let them watch the shows before they air and make sure they’re happy and not just seeing it for the first time with everyone else."

Derren insists he's very different from the persona we see on television.

"I’m not like how I am on TV," he says.  "On TV I’m this person who seems very controlling.  But in life, in order to be happy, it’s about stopping trying to have control over things you can’t control anyway so I’m probably a bit sort of shy in real life."

Are people wary of him and his mind-control abilities at dinner parties?

"I don’t think about it let alone play up to it," he said.  "I’m sure it does go through people’s heads but I don’t play up to it so it dissipates quite quickly!

"I seem to be able to keep my head down.  It seems to be my voice that people recognise more than my face.  For years I had a goatee and I was always in a nice suit but now I’m sort of a bit scruffy and more clean shaven. "

He recalls have Robbie Williams over to his flat once and the dance the singer had to endure in order to avoid paparazzi and fans.

"I don't know what level of money or fame makes that worth it," he said, "If you can't go shopping?"  It never really interested me so luckily I seem to have found a balance with that."

Aside from the stage and TV shows, Brown has created the ultimate mind-bending ghost train ride for Thorpe Park in the UK, which took him three years to create.  He doesn't do things by halves.

He's also currently editing a book about happiness, which will be published in October, and which he describes as the "anti self-help book".

"It's a 2000 year old idea that’s kind of gone out the window nowadays," he says.

"What we’re told nowadays is that if you believe in yourself you can make anything happen.  You set your goals and make sure you move towards everything happening the way you want it and it’s a really damaging idea unfortunately. 

"It gets described as positive thinking but this book is actually quite anti positive thinking, it’s an anti self help book actually.  A dose of a certain sort of pessimism is more useful than blind optimism."

Brown advocates focusing on the things you can control in life, your own thoughts and actions, rather than those you can't - the random stuff life throws at you, what other people do etc.

"I think it was Joseph Campbell who said you can spend your life planning to climb the ladder to success and then you get to the top and realise you've placed it against the wrong wall."

With that in mind, it seems Derren doesn't have a set plan as to how he wants his career to progress.

In the short term he's taking a break from touring next year but will be heading to Broadway with a show largely taken from the shows he has already done here.  Given his experience as a stage performer he would also like to flex his acting muscles in theatre - if he could ever find the time.

You might expect he would have been approached by brands hoping to harness his skills and offering him megabucks to sell out, but he says this is not the case.

"I sort of imagined that would happen too," he says.  "Sometimes I get asked to do things like a big launch or event which I don't have the inclination for.  I'm surprised, I would have thought it would feel like a natural connection!"

So he's not ready to sell out just yet?

"Not just yet. Give me a few years!"

Derren Brown: Miracle plays tonight until May 28 at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

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