Ipswich: Mind manipulator Derren Brown talks Regent-bound Infamous and more
- Credit: Archant
Honestly? I was worried I’d be writing my interview with Derren Brown from a cell after being compelled to swipe a painting or rob a security van. Croaky-voiced after a long interview, perhaps his powers had temporarily waned.
Known for his often controversial TV shows, performing live is still his favourite thing to do. Describing himself as fairly quiet, perhaps a little isolated, it provides a healthy balance; no matter what sort of day he’s had, showtime picks him up and leaves him buzzing.
“It’s my favourite thing to do every year, the adrenaline of doing this show... it always takes you to a very good place by the end of it. I love every part of it. It can be a little tricky, not so much being away from my partner but coming back at the end of it... it’s always coming back and adjusting, whether your other half has taken it more badly than you have. I do miss him but I don’t find it that difficult... coming back and everybody re-adjusting sometimes make you realise this isn’t ideal.”
In a brave move, latest show Infamous, the second leg of which comes to Ipswich later this month, sees the master of psychological illusion move away from the template of previous shows.
“This one, I wanted to do something different, something that would feel... it’s a lot more personal, more stripped down than previous shows, a different feel,” says Brown, who won an Olivier for 2006’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and 2012’s Svengali.
“It doesn’t rely quite so much on big showmanship, [the] big production values in some of the ways the last shows have done. There’s always the risk people might not like that but it seems to have gone down rather well, a lot of people seem to say it’s their favourite which is really encouraging,” says Brown, who co-wrote Infamous, his sixth show since 2003, with Andy Nyman, who also directs.
“It was clear quickly via Twitter the show was being well-received and it’s lovely to have that backed up by the press. You try not to take it too seriously, it doesn’t really mean too much, it’s just encouraging that it’s working as an idea. Aside from the relief no0one’s complaining about it I don’t think it [criticism] has any effect on the show.”
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It has been labelled warmer, less self-orientated. Brown hopes that’s the case. Some people may miss the mind-reading tricks but as he’s grown up he’s felt less need to impress, enjoying shifting the spotlight to other people. After all it’s much more interesting and dramatic watching real people steal a painting than a magician.
“It’s just more about me... previous shows would start with a game, I’d come out, get the audience up on their feet or immediately taking part. This is very different, I come out and talk at the beginning; it’s more personal.”
Brown feels after five shows he’s earned the right to make it more about him. Does he worry opening up about his life demystifies him and what he does?
“Yes and no. I think the problem is there’s a real thing with magicians of any sort that most of the really interesting stuff is how you do it and, generally, that’s the stuff you can’t really vocalise.
“Because of that, magicians have tended over the years to try to plug that by adopting a mysterious persona of some sort.
“It can be quite intriguing but after a while people are intelligent enough to know it’s just tricks and techniques, there’s nothing really special, nothing supernatural about you... it can seem like posturing which is why a lot of magicians are very cool for a couple of years but then often can be seen as a bit of a joke or someone you love to hate,” says Brown, who traces his interest in magic and psychological techniques to childhood.
It was only while studying law and German at Bristol University that he started to take it seriously, abandoning a career in the former to concentrate on developing his skills at psychological magic and paying his bills by combining performing in cafés and bars with a sideline in portraiture.
“I suppose I’ve risked demystifying a bit by being open. There’s only a certain amount that you want to share about your private life, but I’d sort of rather be just honest and me rather than play up to a slightly more two dimensional theatrical version of myself because I think people can see through that...
“Twitter is kind of the difficult one for that because that really does expose you, give people access. It’s one of those things every day I consider whether I should be on Twitter or not... it’s a source of delight but also a source of annoyance,” says Brown, who follows 68 people but has a following of 1.73million.
In case you’re worried, there’s still a lot of trickery and illusions in the show.
“Oh God yeah,” says Brown who is, unsurprisingly, banned from every casino in the country. I hope the show still over delivers on that... there’s just a more personal tone throughout it. It’s a very fun show, more fun than the TV which can sometimes be very dark; it’s all based on audience participation. I think it’s a real treat; even if no-one else enjoys it I enjoy it.”
Brown enjoys being able to deal with a wide range of subjects these days, adding if he’d been stuck being a mentalist or magician he’d have lost interest by now.
Taking the approach it’s important in life to do what’s fun rather than what you feel you ought to be doing his interest in trying to impress people in real life or on TV with magic tricks has lessened; replaced by a greater delight in trying to create his theatre shows.
Mulling over whether it’s the unspoken contract with an audience who know they’ve come to see a show or, perhaps more selfishly, the adrenalin of doing it every night he decides it’s likely both.
He’s enjoyed reuniting with Nyman, working with him on his early TV and stage shows.
“It was nice having a break, it made it easier for us to find a show with a different feel to it, we both felt ready for ‘let’s do something a bit different now’,” says Brown, whose big break came in 2000 courtesy of the Channel 4 show Derren Brown Mind Control.
Since then he’s played Russian roulette live, convinced middle-managers to commit an armed robbery, hypnotised a man to assassinate Stephen Fry and trained four OAPs to steal a valuable painting.
Right now all his attention is focused on the tour, a cut down version of which is likely to be his next TV show; although Brown says it never compares to the live version. His next book, about happiness, is occupying most of his headspace and he’ll be writing that as he travels the UK.
Beyond that, who knows.
Any message for the fans coming to see Infamous, running at the Ipswich Regent from February 25-March 1?
“Oh God, thank you very much for buying tickets because I’m sure they’re pretty expensive. I hope you enjoy it [and] if you don’t want to get involved don’t catch the Frisbee.”