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Derren Brown Showman

Showman is the much-anticipated live show tour by British performer, Derren Brown, now touring the UK until 2022. Like the rest of the world - the tour had been rescheduled multiple times due to the pandemic. And as we were to discover, Covid was going to have a profound effect not just on the scheduling but the contents of the show, too.

Full disclaimer - if you intend seeing the show in future, hoping for it to be televised or prefer to keep everything a surprise - do not read any further. This is a comprehensive deep dive into the show - contents and all.

It's worth noting that live entertainment is back with a bang in England - houses are full, foyers are bustling - and rightly or wrongly, Covid is but a distant afterthought for most. England seems to have a love hate relationship with the pandemic. Masks are 'recommended' but not required. Social distancing is long gone and when measures are mandated - they are not enforced. Some venues require proof of vaccination - others don't. It's a strange mess of mixed messaging that has drawn much debate in the comparison of the reopening of the West End vs Broadway. The former is the Wild West - the latter (ironically) far more regulated.

Whatever your thoughts - to be back in a theatre is a joyous event. It has been 18 months since I last experienced the collective experience that is live theatre ...It is - quite simply - life-affirming.

Tonight's performance of Showman takes place in Hull, England - a port city some two and half hours North of London. Don't say I am not committed.

The New Hull Theatre seats 1300 - and the venue is full. Not an empty seat to be seen. The audience is varied - young, old - across the spectrum. A testament to Derren's notoriety and TV staying power.

The stage set is impressive. Grand arches ( reminiscent of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child ), imposing background supplemented with projection, and a single beam of light highlighting an old style telephone atop a table. The telephone rings. Continuously. A minute. Maybe more.

"Is anyone going to answer" appears projected on the back wall.

There's nervous laughter. Eventually a woman climbs on stage and picks up the phone. She answers. Silence. She's frozen by what she hears on the other end of the line. A rapid induction has taken place. She collapses on a gurney and in the most unsettling of openings - she's wheeled off stage with the giant doors shutting behind her.

A single spot illuminates. The telephone rings yet again. "Will you answer?" ... the audience erupts ... and in walks the showman himself - Derren Brown.

Before we know it - frisbees are being thrown and we dive right in. Four couples are chosen at random - men enter stage right, women join stage left ( no same sex couples at tonight's performance 😉 ) We do not know which partner belongs with whom.

The men are requested to write their partner's name on a giant card along with their most irritating habit. The cards are mixed - the men each repeat a random accusation and the women all must respond - bluffing or not. Derren reads the 'body language' and matches partner with habit. And later divines what they love most about the other. It's cute but not miraculous. I honestly expect more.

Our attention now moves to the history of Zancigs (sp?) - a husband and wife telepathy act - and the question posed by Derren - can the skills of the impossible be taught? Can we do rapid learning?

As we are to discover, the hapless volunteer who was wheeled off on the gurney at the start of the show - has been backstage undergoing some very special training via headphones and been blessed with some super-human powers. This time wheeled back on stage in a Victorian-looking wheelchair.

Another audience volunteer joins her on stage - bringing with him a bank note and coin.

The coin is spun - heads or tails - she guesses correctly. One. Twice. Three times. She knows which way it lands after it has been spun. She predicts which way it lands before it has been spun. The video projection is excellent with the coin magnified across the entire back wall for all to see. The coin is swapped out for a die. The woman's predictive abilities know no bounds ... knowing exactly how many rolls until the number 6 will be thrown. In a final display of her predictive prowess - she is blindfolded, handed a card and pen - and told to simply let random numbers enter her consciousness. The numbers written are found to later match the serial number on the bank note provided.

It's an interesting piece - but flawed on a number of levels. If 'rapid learning' was 'real' as we would have the audience believe - why are we dealing with the trivial ... is heads or tails not somewhat mundane? And the most interesting observation by my layman seatmate - the lady at the start of the show made her own way on stage. She was never chosen at random and thus the avenue of the easy refrain of 'pre-show' or 'stooge' was left open to him ... rightly or wrongly. The fact he had a ready explanation diminished the impossibility. A problem which would rear its head at a later stage, too.

Throughout the first half - Derren has peppered various anecdotes from his Dad who was meant to be at tonight's performance - but sadly wasn't able to make it. Little nuggets from his childhood such as 'don't rock on your chair' or 'don't use the fancy glassware' ... poignant reminders of the difficulties fathers and sons have in trying to communicate.

In the final piece before interval - Derren delves further into hypnosis with a rapid induction of hands being locked tighter and tighter, spectators forgetting their names and the number 7 missing from spectators' vocabulary as they count their fingers. It is standard material seen in nearly every other hypnotist across the globe - a tad overdrawn, not unique and it doesn't help set Derren apart as a one-of-a-kind performer. It feels like an easy way out of padding the show. The one redeeming feature is the ending ... with one spectator remaining on stage, he is positioned on a chair, given a pole to hold and as the blinding lights flash, he is rocked back on his chair caught in an impossible balance position akin to the Matrix. A nice nod to his father ... don't rock on your chair ... but not necessarily a showstopping ending needed for Act 1.

Act 2

Ice-creams devoured, foyers full, masks forgotten - it's time for Act 2.

Luke - one of our earlier hypnotized subjects - is back on stage for, as titled by Derren, Card to Box.

A card is selected from the deck and placed within the card box - securely covered by Luke's hands. A wooden box is nearby ... a secure distance away from the selected card.

The object of the exercise - as Derren points out - is in the title ... to get the card into the wooden box ... an impossible task whilst Luke is guarding the card. The lights black out - flashing - three seconds later - the lights return. Luke is adamant the card remains under his hands. He looks incredulously. It's vanished ... only to reappear in the wooden box.

What happened in those three seconds of darkness ? Derren pulls back the curtain - we get to see that Luke got up in a hypnotized state - removed the card from under his hands and placed it in the wooden box. All the while completely oblivious to his actions.

He is genuinely shocked when he sees what he had done on the recorded footage - having edited out the entire experience.

The effect is repeated. But this time the card is signed. The same happens. There is pitch darkness. Blinding lights. But in a much ( almost impossibly ) shorter time - the lights return. In a 'dual reality' moment - the signed card is indeed discovered in the box.

"Did we not see Luke get up and do the same?" questions Derren. Or did we as an audience also edit out what we had just seen ? The question lingers. It's an intriguing piece.

Next up - Derren shares more childhood stories from his father including that at age 6 - Derren lost his goldfish ( possibly murdering Goldie after discovering that a fish out of water lasts exactly 53 seconds ;-) In being told that Goldie had gone to God, the quick-witted 6 year old wanted to know what God would want with a dead goldish. If true a tale, I can only imagine the expression on Derren's father's face. Derren reminds us that we all have a flapping fish inside all of us - amidst the chaos of our lives. A nod to his recent books on happiness and self-help.

Another story included his father taking him to the fair. In a game of Just Chance - five multi-colored balloons are seen on stage. Behind four balloons - are cards saying Lose. Behind one - a card that says Win. The participants - a father & son duo from the audience. The prize - a giant teddy bear affectionately named Jeff by the 13 year old son. Dad is first asked to write down three things he loves most about his son - while the youngster prepares to play the game. Which balloon will he pop first? Pop. Lose. Pop. Lose. And so it continues. Until we are down to the last two balloons. Pop. Lose. Ben is not a winner tonight.

But no one goes home empty handed at this show ... Ben has a choice - would he like to hear the nice things his Dad has written about him ... or take home the bear? Decisions. Decisions. It's a beautiful moment but the child chooses the bear. Not wanting to miss out on creating lifetime memories - Derren asks the Dad to read aloud his list of things he loves most about Ben, nonetheless - hopefully something that will stay with the child for a long time to come.

"Ben's humour, his love of family and for making me laugh."

As the bear is about to be taken away - Derren points to the giant 'Win Me' badge affixed to the bear which has been in full view at all times. Behind the Win Me sticker - printed - is a message from Jeff the Bear about Ben's great sense of humor, love of family and making his dad laugh. Jeff the Bear knows all. The audience erupt.

Part of the ramp up to Showman included Derren asking on social media for audience members to bring objects to the show that had special meaning to them. A large number had done so. During interval they were required to complete cards writing down the significance of the items they had brought to the show. Objects were then sealed in black velvet bags and a selection of spectators and objects made their way on stage.

Derren shared that the real reason his father could not be at the show tonight was because he had passed from Covid earlier this year. The irony cannot be missed of a show dealing with the death of someone from Covid - in a theatre filled to capacity, with not a mask to be seen. Due to restrictions - Derren's father could not have a proper funeral. His wish for a final spectacular farewell complete with gospel choir was sadly not to be. Covid - as we all know - has wrought havoc in so many lives across the globe. In sorting out his father's possessions - Derren came to realise that they suddenly had become more meaningful. Somehow more important in his life. In much the same way, no doubt, as the objects brought up on stage.

The spectators are arranged in a semi-circle. Derren takes out their objects from the black velvet bags - a lighter, Nazi insignia, a whistle, and jewelry in the form of a mini-axe. No one knows which object connects with which person. In something very reminiscent of Crossing Over with John Edward - Derren successfully matches object with person and regales the hidden meaning behind each of the items brought on stage. Here again we have an inherent problem with the Q&A premise. You specifically asked the audience to bring an object to the show and you specifically asked them to write down every piece of information regarding the said item. The performer then triumphantly reveals the information. Where else did he get it from? No further mention of these cards is made during proceedings. Yet for all the layperson knows, Derren could simply have been reading the cards on the table as he took out each object from the bag. Do we expect our audiences to leave their critical faculties at the theatre door? Forgot that the full information was written down? We need to give our audiences more credit. The shortest route to a method - rightly or wrongly - is all that is needed to destroy the wonder.

Back to the show.

Throughout this all, Derren had learnt to embrace the relationship with his father for what it was - hit and miss.

In a nod to his childhood - Derren has found another of those special wine glasses - the good glassware they were never allowed to use. A ring is borrowed form an audience member and linked to the stem - "the things which seem most isolating, connect us all."

It's time for one more thing.

The frisbee goes into the audience. A lady joins Derren on stage. One key opens the padlock. The 99 others do not. It's her job to find the working key by memorizing its intricate details. She gets to work. Unbeknownst to her - a cloth is pulled back revealing a goldfish bowl. Derren reaches inside and pulls out the fish. A countdown has started. 53 seconds. The fish is floundering gasping for air. Will she find the key?

All the while - Derren imparts some life lessons:
Don't be sidetracked from what you know is important.
Anxieties and pressures may not be real.

Time is running out. She finds a key. The padlock doesn't open. The fish is dying. The counter stops.

Derren performs CPR on the fish. To no avail. A spotlight appears from the heavens and Goldie ascends to God pulled up to the rafters by fishing line. What on earth? The doors swing open on the back wall and amidst a halo of white light a Gospel Choir enters - Hallelujah!

"It's what my Dad wanted."

While the Choir belts out - lessons from Derren's father are projected on the screen - everything from go easier on yourself, don't spend too much time at work to the all-important don't sleepwalk through life.

For the final reveal - we are shown a video of Luke indeed walking across the stage and placing the signed card inside the box. How did we miss it? Were we all sleepwalking through the show? Or as my layman friend asks - how we know that's just not CGI? Or that they didn't just film it during interval? The wonder was broken for him.

Showman ends.

Derren Brown's latest show is a somewhat complex beast to come to terms with. It's clearly personal - and would have been changed substantially compared to its pre-Covid origins. Theatrically - it is exceptionally tight. The scripting is on point. Every word carefully chosen ... every piece of information given for a reason. Andy Nyman's influence is ever present. The projection is seamless, the set & lighting mysterious. There is much to like. Derren is sharing tender moments that are very much of the time and he is no doubt a consummate performer. But the problem is the magic. The show lacked that sense of wonder and utter amazement I was after. You go in wanting to leave your jaw on the floor which sadly isn't the case. Impossibility is a requirement at this level of the game and Showman didn't quite reach those needed heights.
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That has to be the most amazing description ever in the history of shows. Thanks!!!!!
Look for all the world like you're counting the brain cells in his cranium.

-Theodore Annemann
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Greatest review ever, must say. I wonder which parts will be cut for the broadcast? I've always felt that there should be two versions: the slimmed down 1 hr 15 min version and an "extended version" with the full 2 hr 30 min.
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It's taking all my willpower not to read this review. 🙈
Shawn D
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I was wondering if I can get that review in my kindle.
That is like a book.
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Lmao 😂
Look for all the world like you're counting the brain cells in his cranium.

-Theodore Annemann
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This is one of the greatest reviews. Thanks for writing it... I felt like I was reading an in-depth article in Genii or Magic Magazine. I am looking forward to seeing this in person when I travel to the UK from Texas or when it is available on Netflix... I have been watching Derren's specials since purchasing his lecture 16 years ago thanks to a UK buddy. They are wonderful, and my favorites are his stage shows.

I told a friend about Derren Brown and let him borrow a few DVDs of his Channel 4 specials. This friend flew to New York from Texas primarily to see Derren's Off Broadway Show. He is a layman, and his descriptions on what he saw were as entertaining as the show.
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Good review
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Great review,

I saw the show last night and had the exact same experience. In my show lots of things went wrong and I assumed it meant the ending was cut but after reading this review if makes me realise I didn’t miss much.

My family felt it was very flat and weren’t really amazed by it. It’s weird that the sentimental routine with the objects was so obvious, everyone in my family had wrote it down and were excited to be involved.

The cgi video was a bit weak but cool idea, I honestly think video is going to have to stop in magic because I heard several people in the foyer just simple guess it was CGI. It’s obviously not as fooling as we think

Anyway, I loved seeing Derren and how he handled failures. His scripting was incredible, thoroughly entertaining but I expected more from the show.
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Profile of Sel
I went to see it last night in Southend. I really enjoyed it.
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Profile of Fierita
Saw it in London for New Year´s Eve. He asks specifically not to review it so I wont. Just to say that the opening changed to a cell phone bit. I went to the door stage just to meet some signs saying that because of covid no photos or signings would be allowed. I was by myself and nobody else was on the stage door and even when I rushed and got there 5 minutes after the show end he was nowhere to be seen.
Also have some germophobic remarks during the show and asked volunteers to sanitize their hands when coming to the stage and never shook hands with them so I think he maybe a little paranoid about covid (I take it seriously but am not so paranoid). Anyway, his show, his rules but compared with Matilda and Frozen where cast can be met after the show for a quick hello I regretted a little bit.
Also I had a chance to meet the guy who took the bear and saw the badge up close. Interesting.
George Alexander
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I think it's a very good show.

Agree the pseudo-psychometry routine is a little weak. But overall a very well written and hard-hitting show. Derren is an excellent performer.

PS - the video is not CGI!
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Profile of planneroftowns
I really enjoyed the show overall. The audience were really into it and enjoying each reveal with gasps and squeals.

But if I' m honest I find anything presented as hypnotism a bit weak. The sort of person who stands there claiming they can't release their hands will instant stooge pretty much whatever you like on stage. It feels a bit like Paul McKenna in the 80s.

Some great effects. The Koran's style bear routine had the best timing I have ever seen. And the dice roll still has me baffled.
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