Derren Brown returns to the London stage with his 2012 Olivier-nominated show Svengali, which premiered in Brighton back in March 2011. The first half opens with a video introduction about an automaton called Svengali that was created over 200 years ago where it’s creator likened it’s face to his young deceased son. Svengali was able to read people’s minds and spell out the names of their dearly departed at the ring of a bell. So sinister was it’s nature that priests have exorcised the automaton (only time ever in Catholic Church history) to displace any evil spirits it harbours.
The creator eventually went mad thinking he could speak to his son through the automaton and died penniless. The doll passed through a number of collectors over the centuries when Brown noticed it appeared in an auction house after it was reported missing fourty years ago. Svengali would remerge in the second half, fully restored after four years of hard labour to perform some of the most amazing illusions you will see this year.
It is very difficult to label Brown as a stand alone title. Mind reader? Illusionist? Hypnotist? Sceptic? He is in fact all of this things making him an amazing performer. As with all professionals in the industry, it isn’t necessary the act but the performance that entrances the audience making them into believers and certainly, you will want to believe before the night is out.
Brown enters the show without his right shoe and a what seems like a gun. Already you know this isn’t going to be a typical show and he entertains the audience by making them guess which box out of the three has he hidden it. It seems very simple but in fact his powers of suggestion make you think otherwise.
Brown also performs his trademark mind reading trick to some hilarious results. Requesting the audience to write down their most embarrassing secrets, the audience did not disappoint with the cringe factor set to maximum as we learn on the night a women performed a sexual act on a man in the middle of a corridor and a young man had eaten a caramel nibble… off another man’s gentleman area. Nice.
The highlight of the first act however was the painting trick in which Brown plucks out a novice artist to picture a famous celebrity using only their mind. The manner of which the painting takes place is both spectacular and engaging for many, if any, of the audience members didn’t realise who it was until the last few brush strokes were applied.
Brown finally introduces Svengali in the second half which came very close to over shadowing the man himself. So magnificently persevered was the automaton that it beggars belief in what it can do. As it did over 200 years ago, it was able to read minds, spell out the name of the recently deceased and in, what is probably the entire shows thrilling climax, convinced a young boy to carry out an act that will terrify and excite you in equal doses. This part – is not for the faint hearted.
Brown closes the show with the TARG experiment that allows three members of the audience to randomly select a number of cubes with digits on one side. Here, he experiments with a numerical illusion and when taking a huge risk to his life near the end of the show he quips,”I’ve got to be careful here… I’m a borderline national treasure”. While the ending was no where near as fruitful as the Svengali act, the entire show however was thoroughly brilliant and hugely entertaining. It has a wonderful mix of the old illusions we’re familiar with and yet it has dashes of unique tricks taking him into a fresh direction he looks incredibly comfortable performing.
Commenting on the show, Brown says,”I enjoy the stage shows more than anything else. This one is fun, dark, funny, freaky. Live on stage is the best place for what I do: it’s unpredictable, and the audience knows there’s no possibility of judicious editing. Plus we’ve put in new material for this year and the show has grown and changed on the road more than any other.”
And if you’re interested in viewing Svengali, Brown promised it will be on show at the V&A museum from early next year. Until then… go see this show! You’ll regret it if you don’t.
Derren Brown’s Svengali
6 shows per week running until August 11th.
Prices £16-£51 plus booking fees where applicable
Bookings: 0844 4825170 or online on delfontmackintosh.co.uk
Performance times: 7-30pm:
The performance is not suitable for children under 12 years of age.