Illusionist Derren Brown’s latest stage show is another intelligent display of his classic trickery, and thus beautifully life-affirming. Equally typical is the fact that I have been politely asked by the man himself to be light on details to prevent spoilers, so I can’t completely tell you why that is.
If I wanted to encapsulate the spirit of the show, however, then I could very well take a leaf out of Brown’s book and fill this review up with Barnum statements – ones you might read in a horoscope which can actually speak to anyone, of any background, and of any lived experience. So if my selection of adjectives and phrases appear cliché, or as though they could well apply to any other show on the West End, then know that the master of magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship that is Brown forced my hand. Pun very much intended.
Disclaimers out of the way, what can I actually tell you? Well, if you are familiar with Brown’s prior theatre and TV work, then you’ll know the entertainer tends to theme tricks around the personal and the sentimental, at times even throwing parts of his own life into the mix to make proceedings even more affecting and compelling. Those who saw Enigma and Infamous in particular may well feel a tad disappointed in noticing that a lot of the tricks contained in Showman appeared to be rehashed variations of what we have seen before, with few segments being completely refreshed or new.
Then again, with every show of Brown’s, there is always the electric feeling of being part of a shared experience (something which is the joy of theatre more generally, too, of course) and having the opportunity to see things for ourselves, in-person. I can speak to this particular point as someone invited up onto the Apollo Theatre stage in the second half of the show when I saw it. Although all tricks inevitably draw upon the same techniques, the connections we have with them will differ based on us as individuals, and whichever narrative Brown chooses to tell in a particular production.
Community and people, though, are the unspoken themes which connect most of Brown’s repertoire, as well as being the integral part of his line of work, and Showman is no different. One might even say it’s the finest example of this concept to date, not least because five years since his last stage show, a devastating and deadly pandemic has truly emphasised the importance of connection and mortality.
Even if that’s not enough, then Brown possesses an enthusiasm when performing the illusions which is utterly infectious. While others in his line of work might smugly grin at an astounded audience, Brown quickly jumps upon our reactions as a learning opportunity – to inform, educate, lecture and enlighten us about our own lives and the beauty of human behaviour. He encourages us to embrace our true selves, to seize the day, and focus on the things that are most important to us.
Again, these are all ideas explored and emphasised by Brown before, but if there’s a show of his which does this at its most profound and endearing (at least, so far), then it’s this one. It’s the one with even a name which feels deceptive given how stripped of hyperbole and intimate the show actually is. It’s Showman.
Derren Brown: Showman is now playing at the Apollo Theatre until 18 March.
The running time is 2 hours 40 minutes, and details of access performances have not been made available.
Production Images: Mark Douet.