From his first appearance on TV back in 2000 with the series “Mind Control” I’ve watched almost everything illusionist Derren Brown has done. This is with the exception of his live Russian Roulette (2003) where the presence of a loaded gun was too much even for me. There’s been the odd blip (the lottery prediction was a little odd as was the theft of a painting from an art gallery) but he is not only an extraordinary showman who has provided us with some many jaw-dropping moments of television (the pianist, the chap who flew a plane, the end of the world immediately springing to mind) but he is also a great debunker of those who claim to have special powers.
This 90 minute programme was taken from his sell-out live shows at London Palace Theatre and was, as usual, a fascinating blend of illusion, distraction and hypnotism seamlessly conveyed with me, also as usual, being completely clueless as to how it is all achieved. Unless, he really does have special powers of course.
Derren began with a section projected on screens onto the stage on how to be happy. Setting achievable goals is what we have been recommended but in this we lose the “now” so the goals may be attained but all round happiness hasn’t happened. We’ve focused on the endings forgetting that “maybe life should be like a piece of music and you’re supposed to be dancing”. All stirring life-coach stuff but this is Brown and not Paul McKenna. Brown’s not a life-coach because we do not know how to read him. He tells us to worry only about what we can control and not what we can’t but is this just a lead in to one of his remarkable illusions?
After seeing him so often it does seem like these illusions follow certain patterns. They remind us of something we’ve seen him do before, but only an echo of a reminder. They have been tweaked into something new and extraordinary. We know that early on there is something that he will return to as a huge reveal at the end of the show but we never see that coming.
After a few extraordinary moments (a predicted game of consequences, getting an audience member to eat a lightbulb) he leads us to the central part of the production. This is, Brown claims a debunking of evangelical faith healers. By using their methods and, disturbingly, often their words Brown appears to heal a number of audience members of joint pain and short-sightedness. In this section the pace is revved up relentlessly and the whole thing makes for outstanding yet disturbing viewing. Is this atheist performing god-given miracles? Of course not, but what he is doing and how he is doing it I’m not any the wiser. I would really love to see one of his stage shows every night to see the variation. I would say that hypnosis was at work in this section and I imagine that part of the preparation of the audience for this was left out. (I believe it is not legal to show this on British TV, in case we all become mind controlled!) but I did find myself ending up with an odd kind of glow at the end of the programme. I felt energised. Was this because I had experienced an hour and a half of thrilling television or was something else at work here? Maybe I should employ him as a life coach after all!
Derren Brown: Miracle was shown on Channel 4 on Monday 10th October at 9pm. It is currently available on Channel 4 catch-up services