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.