Derren Brown live in London's West End -- astounding!

Last week, I went to see mentalist/magician Derren Brown perform live at the Garrick Theatre in London's West End, catching the start of the run of his latest show, "Derren Brown, Mind Reader: An Evening of Wonders. It was absolutely fantastic. I'd met Derren and chatted with him, and seen his TV show, but I'd never seen him perform live. He's nothing short of brilliant.

The show doesn't feature much by way of traditional conjuring tricks, but rather builds up a sustained narrative about mind reading and skepticism, wherein Brown performs an escalating series of amazing mentalist stunts -- guessing things he should have no way of knowing, seemingly imparting his ability onto random audience members, and all the while implying at times that this is hypnosis, body-reading, mind reading, simple tricks, none of the above, and all of the above, reminding us all the while that it's just tricks, that psychic phenomena are rubbish, and so on.

The general effect is one of intense mental alertness and continuous amazement: Brown's expert misdirection, gripping stage presence, humour and patter had me thinking at a million miles a minute, trying to unravel the mysteries he presented even as fresh ones were revealed.

After the intermission, Brown came out in a formal tux and announced that he would finish the show with a revival of the Vaudeville-era "oracle" act, in which a purported mentalist answers questions from sealed envelopes. He proceeded to do so, adding variation upon variation, each one more astounding than the last. By the time it was over, I was absolutely mystified and utterly delighted.

At the show, I picked up a DVD of "Something Wicked This Way Comes," a movie version of his last touring show. It features many similar amazements (though I thought the new show really outdid the last one), and the ability to rewind and go back and still not spot the gimmick makes it all the more amazing.

Brown's new show runs to June 7. If you're in London and want to have your mind blown six ways to Sunday, this is about as good as it gets. Link to tickets at the Garrick, Link to Something Wicked This Way Comes DVD

See also:
Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind video -- baffling mentalism
Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind: book explains magic, hypnosis and the rationale for rationalism


  1. Derren Brown is fantastic. I’m a bit jealous of you being able to see him, being stuck here in .au. Oh well, another reason to travel.

    I’d just started watching the “Tricks of the Mind” series when you posted your review of his book of the same name, so I ordered it (from the UK).
    I finished it within a couple of days of getting it, and it was just as good as you said. I particularly liked the human element of it.

    I’ve also seen a couple of clips of him performing card tricks, proving that he’s just as good at “traditional” magic as he is at the mental stuff. He’s re-inspired my interest in prestidigitation, and I’ve been practising…

    By the way:
    Telephone, sausage, monkey, button, book, cabbage, glass, mouse, stomach, cardboard, ferry, Christmas, athlete, key, wigwam, baby, kiwi, bed, paintbrush, walnut.

  2. I was a fan of Derren Brown until his most recent Trick or Treat series on television. One of the stunts involved hypnotising a woman to believe she was having an out of the body experience following a car accident, with the intention of shocking her into driving more carefully.

    I thought the resulting television show was exploitative and dangerous. Derren Brown is amazing, but I don’t think he – or anyone – can guarantee against psychological after-effects with something like this. It seemed to me that he is so anti-paranormal that he overlooks the chance that he may damage people and their psyches through all-too-normal arrogance. I’ve gone off him since then.

    I like entertainment: I don’t like entertainers who humiliate or endanger other people for the sake of entertainment. He may be able to do it, but should he? I haven’t watched his programme since, and certainly won’t attend a live performance.

  3. I don’t like entertainers who humiliate or endanger other people for the sake of entertainment. He may be able to do it, but should he? I haven’t watched his programme since, and certainly won’t attend a live performance.

    When has Derren Brown endangered anyone? The worst I’ve seen him do is make someone miss their subway stop. As for humiliation, more like learning some humility. The first step in avoiding a trap is knowing of its existence.

    It seems to me that Boing Boing are moving away from their core interests by commenting on subjects like Derren Brown.

    “Social engineering” as in the overlap between stage magicians and confidence artists certainly qualifies as BoingBoing / Wired / WELL / 2600 / hacker material in my book. Derren Brown never claims to do anything supernatural — mainly feats of memory and exploiting biases in our evolutionary psychology. (Hence the moniker of “mentalist”.)

    Cory was the third independent source to bring Derren Brown’s work to my attention, and that finally made me check out his videos — which I subsequently greatly enjoyed. Kudos!

  4. Um, Coresoup, Derren Brown is a renowned skeptic who has devoted his career to debunking psychic phenomena, and makes no claim to doing anything supernatural. He, like James Randi, Penn and Teller, etc, is a conjurer who openly derides those who seek to deceive the public.

    You, sir, are talking out of your ass.

  5. @CORESOUP – That is a very narrow and misguided view of what’s going on. It also smacks of glossing over the story itself. Derren Brown goes out of his way to point out that there’s nothing magical or supernatural about what he does. Further, when he reveals the ‘hows’ behind his ‘tricks’, he elucidates just how non-magical and, yes, what a ‘wonderful thing’ it is that he does.

    I’m no ‘fan boy’ and I certainly have no stalking scheduled for this year but Brown is a great entertainer. I’m glad you enjoyed the show, Cory.

  6. I’m glad to see Derren publicised so well on BoingBoing. If his work and attitude doesn’t qualify as wonderful nothing does! If you think you MIGHT enjoy his book “Tricks of the Mind”, definately order it (Amazon UK is the only source last I checked). He is a very good and witty writer and the book is a pleasure to read.

  7. Thornae – I still have that list of words in my mind, months after I read the book.

    Tricks of the Mind is a good read. Quite diverse in subject matter of interest, and with DB’s amusing, alternately self-deprecating/self-aggrandising writing it always entertains.

  8. Why, why is telepathy,clairvoyance,precognition, astral projection and some other phenomenon considered by many bright, rational people to be outside the purview of science? Just because we do not understand so called psychic phenomenon we label it pseudo-science? I think there is much more to it than that and that it should be taken seriously by the scientific community. Could it not be related in some way to how consciousness arises? Are there connections to quantum phenomenon? To dismiss out of hand that there is no such thing as psychic ability and that it cannot be investigated by the scientific means is to be short sighted and dogmatic. By analogy, how is psychic phenomenon any different than string theory? While there is very little empirical evidence for either at this point, it does not mean that it will not be proven at some future time. “Fortune tellers” and television mediums are likely to be fakes, I would agree. But I do not agree with the agenda of “mentalists” who would label all psychic phenomenon to be fake.

  9. We need more people like Darren Brown in the U.S.m so stupid things like this don’t happen:

    The charge from the school district — Wizardry!

    Substitute teacher Jim Piculas does a 30-second magic trick where a toothpick disappears then reappears.

    But after performing it in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land ‘O Lakes, Piculas said his job did a disappearing act of its own.

    “I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, ‘Jim, we have a huge issue, you can’t take any more assignments you need to come in right away,'” he said.

    When Piculas went in, he learned his little magic trick cast a spell and went much farther than he’d hoped.

    “I said, ‘Well Pat, can you explain this to me?’ ‘You’ve been accused of wizardry,’ [he said]. Wizardry?” he asked

  10. Cory, you might want to remind your readers that the DVD is region 2 and will not play on most DVplayers here in the states.

  11. Also, you may want to remind people they can’t literally “rewind” DVDs, as that might result in a very un-playable plastic coaster. Instead, they should “seek”. :)

  12. Why, why is telepathy,clairvoyance,precognition, astral projection and some other phenomenon considered by many bright, rational people to be outside the purview of science?

    Most people who dismiss the above see them as inside the purview of science and completely understood. If there were any kind of mystery you would see thousands of scientists instantly pounce on it and invest huge amounts of money in working out how the laws of nature as we know them have been broken.

  13. Derren Brown is pretty frank that he uses a variety of techniques for what he does, including outright trickery. He is intentionally vague on when he’s using which technique.

    Those who are interested can, with sufficient research, figure out how his stuff is done. (I’d start with Corinda’s 13 Steps to Mentalism.) Those who aren’t interested in the details should still remember that he is an entertainer, and you should not take his entertainments as proof of anything, any more than the Iron Man movie proves that you can put on a flying suit and go race with jets.

  14. @ AAHMYEYES:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Derren Brown is very entertaining, he seems likable, but he’s also a charlatan. Houdini would have much to say about his claims and methods.

    @ WILLIAM:

    True, he is mostly aboveboard in his admission that he occasionally employs trickery, except for all those times when he knowingly misleads the audience with his often disingenuous and semi-insulting explanations. What exactly is he accomplishing by continuing to mislead the audience following a trick? He’s certainly not making them any wiser by not showing them how it’s done.

    One thing he is very good at is leaving the audience members with the impression that what they have witnessed isn’t real psychic phenomena or magic, but is instead something that they could learn for themselves, if only they were as smart as he is. There is a congenital duplicity involved, and it could be interpreted by some as unnecessary and injurious. Perhaps that is not his goal, ultimately. I’m no psychic.

    I respect Derren Brown for a lot of reasons, but his purported knowledge of psychology isn’t one of them. Similarly, I have a great amount of respect for Penn and Teller, but their show “Bullshit!” is (ironically?) loaded with misinformation. One episode suggested that scientists aren’t in agreement about the existence of global warming, which is false. They further repeat the myth that scientists in the 1970s predicted imminent global cooling. In another episode, they claim that secondhand smoke has not been linked to cancer; another outright falsehood.

    People who argue the simple fact that most scientists broadly agree as to the causes and existence of global warming are often accused of being dogmatic ideologues. Penn and Teller are so tied in with the Cato Institute that they have to reject legitimate science on occasion, but it is dangerous when opinions as trusted as theirs are blithely founded on half-truths and lies. They are not ignorant by definition, but, like Brown, they are occasionally guilty of either ignorance or calculated insincerity.

    One problem, as I see it, is that magicians such as Penn Jillette and Derren Brown are presumably intent on following in James Randi’s footsteps, without entertaining the necessary skepticism to ensure the veracity of their own claims.

  15. Derren Brown is an excellent entertainer, but while he does explain there’s nothing really paranormal going on, he does make unbelievable claims to impossible psychological feats.

    Hypnotizing strangers with keywords and voice rhythms? Nonsense.

    He’s simply the UK equivalent of Chris Angel. A gifted showman, but nothing more.

    He gains trust by exposing lies like psychic tricks, only to get you to accept lies like no mechanical tricks, no plants, no editing out the 100 times the trick didn’t work, etc.

  16. He’s a very talented performer. The fact he’s open about the way his show is all sleight of hand and suggestion makes his performances more interesting, IMHO. The game is; can you spot the suggestions?

  17. He is a member of the —– and it’s his job spread the good word that magic and super-natural powers are crap. Good work!

  18. @zuzu: “When has Derren Brown endangered anyone? The worst I’ve seen him do is make someone miss their subway stop.”

    This may not be totally endangering anyone, but it’s a bit worse than making someone miss their subway stop:

    (one-minute segments:)


  19. 24, hypnotism is not real and the subject is an accomplice. It’s all fake. Now I will watch the video and see if I am psychic.

  20. 24, hypnotism is not real and the subject is an accomplice. It’s all fake. Now I will watch the video and see if I am psychic.

  21. #25 & 26: “hypnotism is not real”

    I usually just trust whatever I read on teh internets (especially comments on political blogs—they’re never wrong) but just this once, I decided to check for myself. And I’ve found some people who disagree with you.

    It seems that hypnosis is real (or else the scientific community has all collaborated to do another well done elaborate hoax after their success with creating the impression that we landed on the moon and perpetuating an almost fascist “theory of gravity” that few now dare to mention, let alone dissent from).

    These may not be smarter than you, but their names/titles are slightly longer than “Bad Password” so I’m inclined to trust them a little more. But as LeVar Burton taught me, don’t take my word for it:
    * The British Psychological Association’s report The Nature of Hypnosis
    * American Psychological Association Division 30: Psychological Hypnosis

  22. Derren Brown is a LEGEND!

    Funny that Cory should blog this – I bought 2 tickets for his show yesterday. Can’t wait!

    For those getting their knickers in a twist about him – he is a total rationalist, a self-proclaimed showman with no pretenses to special supernatural powers, and it seems his primary motive (other than having a paying career) is a delight in the quirks and possibilities of human nature.

    His book is great too.

    I find it revealing that the two painted portraits by Brown in the book (yes, he’s a talented charicaturist too!) are of Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins.

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