Underground’s the best show I’ve done says master of the mind Derren Brown
PUBLISHED: 19:00 29 July 2017 | UPDATED: 12:54 01 August 2017
“Best of” - two words that often signal the winding down of a career. Not in the case of psychological illusionist Derren Brown, heading to Ipswich next week.
Derren laughs at the suggestion his latest stage show, Underground, foreshadows him stepping out of the spotlight any time soon.
“Ha ha, no, no. It was about taking a break not so much from doing shows, but from writing new ones,” he reassures me.
It wasn’t written as a ‘best of’. The idea was to do a show he could take abroad, for people who wouldn’t have seen him before. A collection of his favourite bits of previous tours made more sense than writing a new show.
Derren and his writing and directing team drew up a list of what they’ve liked most over the past 15 years. It was then a case of seeing what would fit together well within a do-able running time.
“Some things we love are very long main pieces and there can only be room for one or two of those, the others are shorter bits... you want to have something a bit creepy or scary, another that’s going to be fun. It actually ended up being much more difficult than we thought, not so much choosing the material that was very easy,” says Derren, who’s in the middle of rehearsals.
New shows normally take a month to get down. He’s familiar with the show but still needs to re-acclimatise himself with segments. There are also a couple of new additions to the technical side who need to be brought up to speed.
“Making it cohesive, giving the show its own narrative and heart was a lot more challenging because normally that’s done in conjunction with deciding the material. Having that already in place, then giving it its own feel was actually a strange way round of doing it. The result is it feels like the best show I’ve done and it’s very nice to start with all the best material,” he laughs.
“It’s been very nice to go back and work on things again, improve them. Some of them I was doing nearly 15 years ago. I’m a better performer than I was then so hopefully all of those things are better than they were originally because I got to re-visit them as who I am now.”
Watching older performances back, he found he talked very, very quickly - he’s going 10 to the dozen as we chat - and his voice was a bit “tinny”. The change, he laughs, comes from being more relaxed, less neurotic and less needy.
“It’s a very natural thing. You’re going out,” he laughs, “going ‘love me, love me’ so I think it can take a while to find your home with that so it’s a very comfortable thing for me to do now.
“I’ve always preferred it to the TV as well. I’ve got older, I’m a different person than I was 15 years ago. You do magic because you want to impress people and I think that’s less in the way of my life now then it was back at the start.
“You know you can’t not be doing that as a performer because that’s your raison d’etre for doing it but I think if you need it less as a person then it only makes you better as a performer.”
He wasn’t sure how audiences would respond.
“If you’re a comedian doing your best gags that would seem really odd – who would want to go and see that? – so I wasn’t sure how people would take to it. Workshopping it in London earlier in the year, it sold out and it felt like it could be a stand-alone show in England too.”
He hasn’t made a TV special since last year’s Pushed to the Edge, which saw him explore the power of compliance by persuading a member of the public into believing they’ve pushed someone to their death.
“It was great fun to do, a really exciting weekend,” he laughs.
“It was a very tense and exciting process because you set all those things up and then you drop people in that situation and you’re filming it. Partly the tension is making sure the filming works, because there’s always stuff that’s going wrong.
“There are cameras going down or there’s no sound and that has to be sorted without anybody stepping in or interrupting it and changing plans that you have to communicate to the others. On top of that there’s whether the person will go through with it and what you’re hoping they’ll do or not do.
“I try to write shows I know that, after the months of trying to get it right and all the compromises and pressures, will be fun. I quite enjoy sitting down and watching it play out,” he laughs. “I’m much less on the screen than I used to be.”
He’s due another special.
“After Apocalypse, which was a very big and ambitious show, the next one was a group of pensioners stealing a painting from a gallery so I try to mix it up. The last one was quite dark so I would imagine this next one would have a bit of a shift in tone.
“I’m just starting to think about TV, but it’s a little early to say anything right now. I want to surprise people with what I do. One of the challenges with that last show was how you tell the story but still make it surprising - that’s a big part of anything if you’re trying to entertain on any level.”
• Underground visits the Ipswich Regent July 31-August 2.