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Derren’s talent is no illusion

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From master illusionist to quiet philosopher, Derren Brown manages to bring all aspects of himself to the stage in his latest mind-blowing production, writes Andrew Youngson


For someone who has held the attention of the nation in the palm of his hand for the past 15 years, Derren Brown is remarkably self-deprecating.

On screen and stage, he exudes an ultimate confidence and mastery over his illusions, whether it has been displaying the powers of the Messiah himself, or hypnotising people into landing planes and robbing banks. But behind the scenes, he reveals that even he doesn’t get everything right all the time.

Take his latest live tour production, Infamous, which heads for Aberdeen’s HM Theatre next week. Earlier on in the tour, the finale went wrong. What exactly happened, Derren wouldn’t say; ever the magician, he remained tightlipped. But it was clear from his tone that he wasn’t kidding.

“The final moment just completely and totally went off. There was no way to draw it back, as the confetti had already gone off,” Derren said.

“That was frustrating, but even then people are very forgiving. Afterwards, I was desperately trawling Twitter and I saw that people had loved it. Generally, things go to plan, and if they don’t it doesn’t matter. It’s the nature of a live show, and I’ve learned that people quite like it.

“If you’re a juggler, it’s good to drop a ball every now and again on purpose to show how difficult it is.”

Quiet, thoughtful and charmingly unassuming – all are aspects of the real Derren which he is now bringing to the fore in Infamous. Described as “a psychological rollercoaster based around audience participation”, Infamous explores some huge ideas, but Derren presents them in a decidedly personal way. Like “an acoustic set”, he said.

His previous five stage shows have been more extravagant affairs. This one, however, has a different feel: it’s stripped down and personal, whereas the others had more of a template to them, he explained.

But if the template worked so well, why change, I asked?

“It felt time to do something different,” he replied simply.

“When I started writing the show, I wanted it to be a journey that I took people on. So I thought: ‘What would I want to see if I was in the audience?’ If someone just stands up and shows off, that can be interesting for five or 10 minutes but, in the same way as my TV shows, it’s more about members of the public and real stories,” he said.

True to his word, Infamous is Derren’s most autobiographical show to date, featuring many candid anecdotes about his life, from coming out as gay at the age of 31, to exploring his philosophies on life (some of which he has even jotting down while on tour in his forthcoming book on the topic of happiness).

The result of the new show format, Derren hopes, is a more personal and affecting experience. However, the show isn’t by any means a soapbox for the psychological illusionist. Or worse, a nightly therapy session. As with all Derren’s work, this new format is a vehicle for blowing people’s minds.

“The reason I do it is to get over some big ideas from the show, and unless you’re self-deprecating with that, it just seems a little preachy,” he said.

In this way, he has drawn inspiration from great American comedians Louis C.K. and Bill Hicks – both having found the ideal line between explosive charisma and humble self-deprecation. Like these modern comedic greats, Derren aims to bring just enough of himself to the show to add value to the audience experience, while simultaneously not too much so as to detract from it.

“You come away learning some good ideas, but they are not preaching because they deflect back on themselves. At the same time, if you can combine that with important ideas then it can be very powerful. It’s about creating the most effective show that you can. But it’s not a therapy thing,” he said.

Focusing on the audience’s experience isn’t just important, Derren concluded. It’s vital for any magician who truly wants to make an impact. And although unassuming in real life, he certainly has made a huge impact over the years.

“I remember someone once said to me: ‘Every other show is about the magician, but your show is more about the audience.’ In any sort of magic show or participation experience, the magic trick exists in the mind of the person watching. The audience tell themselves a story which they can’t explain logically, and that’s magic.”

“Sorry, I’m rambling now,” he added apologetically.

See? Self-deprecating to a fault.

Derren Brown’s Infamous tour will be at HM Theatre, Aberdeen, from Monday to Saturday, July 7-12. Tickets are available from or by calling 01224 641122.