Mention the name DERREN BROWN and many descriptions come to mind – magician, mind manipulator, and madman. I say the latter because, who in their right mind would put a loaded gun to his head and pull the trigger? Oh yes, it was all on live TV too. So Derren, we make no apologies for the moniker.
However you describe him, you can guarantee he is a one-off. A performer prepared to constantly challenge and break down boundaries.
Before I go any further, I do have a little bit of experience of Derren Brown live, but not in large venue shows like the New Theatre in Cardiff where he’s bringing his new tour SHOWMAN to the stage this week. I’ve been fortunate to see Derren perform extremely close up, long before he became the ‘bloke off the telly’. And later he did a very intimate run at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, where the small audience were pretty much on stage with him.
I tell you this for one reason only. We had no idea then, just how he ‘does it’, as all of us said as we left the venue, and actually, nor would I want to. Half the fun of seeing Derren live is that you never quite know what’s going to happen (I actually don’t think he does either), and watching the show with no prior knowledge is absolutely vital.
So let’s give you a request from Derren…….
He asks audience members not to give anything away regarding the contents of the show – that includes South Wales Life who will be there next week on opening night.
True to form, the show trailer gives nothing away but leaves you itching to get into a theatre to see it.
Amongst a varied and notorious TV career, including playing Russian Roulette live, he’s convinced middle-managers to commit armed robbery, led the nation in a séance, stuck viewers at home to their sofas, successfully predicted the National Lottery, motivated a shy man to land a packed passenger plane at 30,000 feet, hypnotised another to assassinate Stephen Fry and created a zombie apocalypse for an unwitting participant after dramatically ending the world.
For those of us who are addicted to his various social channels, he also does a mighty fine job of debunking psychics. Take a look at the episode where Derren himself holds court with an American audience and you will believe he is getting messages from loved ones beyond the grave – HERE.
You can’t be this innovative without picking up a few awards along the way, and Derren has more than his fair-share. His awards include a 2012 Best Entertainment BAFTA for DERREN BROWN: THE EXPERIMENTS, an RTS Award for Best Entertainment Programme THE EXPERIMENTS and a 2010 Broadcast Award for DERREN BROWN: THE EVENTS.
He has toured every year since 2003 with a series of live shows, which have won him two prestigious Olivier Awards – for SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (2006) and SVENGALI (2012). In 2018 he received his fifth nomination, for UNDERGROUND. This means Derren has had the largest number of nominations and wins for one-person shows in the history of the Olivier Awards.
But what we love about Derren is the fact he is always looking ahead, creating something special and different to what has gone before. Which is exactly what the new tour SHOWMAN is.
As he prepares for the 2022 leg of the SHOWMAN tour, and a near sold-out run in Cardiff, we asked Derren what he would you say was the inspiration behind the show………
“Funnily enough, the show was written pre-lockdown, about how the things in life that feel most isolating actually tend to be the very things that we share. And then this literal play-out of that idea happens, globally. So that has remained at its heart – it has a gentle thread about how we share our human difficulties, and the value of remembering what’s important.”
The SHOWMAN tour is undoubtedly the largest you’ve ever undertaken. What do you see as your main personal challenges…..
“Yes, I’ll be touring March to November, which is very long for me, but I’m hugely looking forward to it. It’s such an enjoyable process, and I’m with the best bunch of people, and I get to have my days free, which is quite a luxury. My main personal challenge is to have things to occupy me during the day. It’s a great time to be writing, so I tend to concentrate on that.”
The 2021 tour of SHOWMAN garnered rave reviews. Does this put extra pressure on you or give you a bit of a confidence boost……..
“I think it’s had the best response of any show I’ve done. It’s lovely to know, and a happy thing to read people’s responses right after a show on Twitter, but ultimately, in order to do it night after night, I can only really be concerned about the relationship between me and the particular audience in front of me.
I think about that; I think about whether I’m enjoying it and bringing to it what I must; I think about how I will spend my days; I think about how my little team are and whether they’re happy and doing a good job. And it’s always hard for any performer in a relationship, leaving your partner at home to deal with all the day-to-day stuff while you’re off ‘having fun with your friends’. Navigating that takes up mental space too.
Those are really all my concerns. As far as reviews go, if they all had the same grumble, I’m sure we’d look at changing what was obviously a problem. But as long as they’re all very happy, they don’t really take up any space in my head. Which is the best way.”
In 2020, the great man celebrated twenty years on Channel 4 with DERREN BROWN, 20 YEARS OF MIND CONTROL: LIVE, a dedicated night honouring some of his most jaw-dropping moments on TV. You really have to be something very special for a channel to give you your own ‘night’.
Born in Croydon, Derren traces his interest in magic and psychological techniques to childhood, but it was only later, at Bristol University, where he reluctantly studied Law and German, that he started to delve more seriously into the stranger edges of human experience and what they might mean to us.
For those of us who follow him, it seems that Derren is very much a Bristol boy now – it’s certainly a place which allowed him to enhance his many skills. And believe me, he has many, both on and away from the stage and TV.
Looking back Derren, what did you want to be when you were a kid…….
“A vet! Because I loved animals. And I think I wanted to be a poet at some point. I studied later to be a lawyer, but that was no fun. I soon preferred the idea becoming a magician. I thought it was important to know the way I wanted my life to feel, and I knew I wanted to be in charge of how I spent my time, when I worked, when I woke up in the morning and so on. So as I was good at magic, it made sense to try to do it as a job.
If the magic hadn’t worked out, I’d have found something else that still gave me those things I thought were important. I’ve always thought like that: I’ve never had any ambition or thought much about where I wanted to be in the future. Just tried to make things feel right in the present and do things that seemed interesting or fun.“
As an author, Derren has received much praise for his best-selling books, TRICKS OF THE MIND, CONFESSIONS OF A CONJUROR and HAPPY, which have, collectively, sold over a million copies worldwide. Transworld recently published A LITTLE HAPPIER, condensing the lessons of Derren Brown’s Sunday Times bestseller HAPPY into a series of thoughtful and inspiring mini-chapters.
His latest: A BOOK OF SECRETS: FINDING SOLACE IN A STUBBORN WORLD, is now available.
That latest book Derren advices us to embrace uncertainty and consider the value of difficulty in our lives – which appears particularly relevant in these Covid times. Did the pandemic influence the book…..
“Yes, I started it in New York pre-pandemic and finished it during the second lockdown. The previous book, Happy (and its baby brother, A Little Happier) are about Stoicism which I think is very useful. But there is much more to be said about the human experience, and this book is about ways of navigating difficulty that are more about connection, rather than drawing your centre of gravity within.”
He recently recorded a series of successful podcasts for Audible called BOOT CAMP FOR THE BRAIN, and is currently developing a new stage version of THE INVISIBLE MAN, which plans to premiere in the autumn.
The invisible Man! Is that the only thing up your sleeve for the next year or so…..
“I’m co-creating the production of the Invisible Man; I’m helping form an interesting magic-related event which is in its early days; and I am co-creating a big show which I think will be rather special for 2023. These all have me firmly behind the scenes, which I’m rather enjoying. When I have my art studio sorted out at the new house, I’ll be painting again.
I’m also writing a book for magicians, and I have a juicy idea for a new book for the public. And this eight month stint of Showman… plenty to be getting on with.”
Privately, Derren paints and photographs. His book PORTRAITS offers a collection of his early paintings, which have been exhibited at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London. A book of his street photography, MEET THE PEOPLE WITH LOVE, has been released, again by Transworld. Examples of his accomplished work can be viewed on his website and Instagram page.
Which brings us right back to the current tour. Would you say SHOWMAN is your most personal theatrical show to date…….
“Definitely. And it’s a real treat to do for exactly that reason. And to have people respond to it so well night after night make it even more so.”
After a successful run of DERREN BROWN: SHOWMAN last year, his latest theatre tour is back on the road and gets to the New Theatre in Cardiff next week. I can tell you now, there are a few tickets left, and we’re talking almost single figures on certain performances, so get in quick or you really will miss out on something very special.
The show runs through to Saturday 2nd April. Performances are at 7:30pm with a 2:30pm matinee on Saturday, but that is now completely sold out. In fact, there are only SIX tickets left for the entire run, at the time of writing this.
Your best shot at tickets is to head HERE right now as there are only single seats remaining for all other performances, and not many of those.
Finally, we had to find out from Derren which of his many TV shows / documentaries he’s done over the years was his favourite…..
“Maybe Apocalypse. It was such a mammoth, mad, ambitious thing, and such an emotional journey for all of us. Steve and I are still good friends and he’s doing very well. But the shows that have meant something important to the person going through it: those will always be the ones that I’ll remember most fondly.”