The Best of Derren Brown: Underground – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, Aprl 2018
It’s fair to say that Derren Brown has transformed the art and entertainment form of psychological magic, illusion and mind control since his rise to fame, quickly developing into a one-man tour de force who has captured the nation’s attention and imagination.
Having watched several of his TV series and increasingly elaborate one-off specials since he first burst onto our screens in 2000, I was fascinated to experience for myself the atmosphere and energy of being part of a live theatre audience, rather than simply watching from the comfort of my front room. And the timing was even more relevant, having just seen Andy Nyman’s fantastic film Ghost Stories at the cinema, with this ‘Underground’ show being co-written by Nyman, Andrew O’Connor and Brown himself.
As well as being a man of many talents, Brown also has the ability to grab an audience’s attention from the off, and he held everyone in the palm of his hand from the moment he walked onto the stage in front of the packed audience at Hull New Theatre. The ‘Best Of’ tour is exactly that; taking some of his favourite elements from the last 14 years of stage shows and wrapping them together for an evening of unforgettable entertainment that will have people asking themselves for a long while to come – just how does he do that?
While not wanting to give anything away, fans of Brown’s work will know what to expect, even though they may still be left shaking their heads at what they are seeing. As someone with a keen interest in the power of suggestion, mind manipulation and how to manoeuvre people into doing what you want them to do or making them think what you want them to think, I found the first half utterly fascinating, clearly watching a master craftsman at his work.
The fact that the audience are involved from the very off, both mentally or physically, generates an extraordinary atmosphere, and there are no shortage of willing participants to get up on stage and contribute to the show. The finely crafted package takes you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, so much so that at some point you just have to let it wash over you and stop trying to figure it out, with my personal favourite coming at the climax of the first half, involving some phenomenal artistic skills and an impressive stunt involving a gorilla and a banana. On which subject I shall say no more.
The second half felt a little more manic and less structured than the first, using even greater input from the audience, whipping them up into a ball of energy, before an elaborate finale that continued to produce surprise after surprise. This showstopper highlighted Brown’s talents at their finest, building layer upon layer into his set-piece, pulling so many elements together to produce a result that left me scratching my head long after I left the theatre. If you think, like me, that you’ve enjoyed Brown’s shows on the small screen, then seeing him in the flesh really is an experience not to be missed.