Review: Derren Brown's 'Svengali'

Review: Derren Brown's 'Svengali'

A close-up of Derren Brown's Svengali promotion poster.

A close up of Derren Brown's Svengali promotional poster. Note the devilish tail Derren sports.

First published in Young Reporter

While critics may find too few moments of utter awe and absolute shock, fans of Derren Brown will be amazed, enthralled & utterly entertained by his latest theatrical iteration; Svengali.

Derren Victor Brown, one of Britain’s most celebrated yet controversial illusionists, has never been far from the media spotlight. Among his various abilities, (including professional caricaturing & all-round entertaining) his self-proclaimed “mind-reading,” acts have drawn attention even from his first television iteration in “Mind Control,” in 1999. From then, he has risen, from intelligent showman to nationwide-illusionist using a mixture of death-defying bravado, (his ‘Derren Brown Plays Russian Roulette Live’ performance captivated millions of terrified viewers across the UK) and even large-scale audience manipulation.

His latest tour, (following his former, “ENIGMA” in 2009) attempts to once again leave audiences in awe and shock, as he conjures a show brimming with psychological profiling, acts of heroism, greed & even mutilation. This is a show that no audience member will attend and then forget. While details of each individual stunt can for obvious reasons not be disclosed, (his tour has literally only just started in the New Victoria Theatre, Woking) the experience certainly can.

Critics of Derren Brown often cite the same fair point; he uses cheap drama and shock-techniques to achieve interest from the audience, as opposed to other perhaps more respected illusionists. While this was certainly true earlier on in his career, it is utterly delightful now to know that he has started injecting his shows with perhaps the most interesting aspect of it; himself. Witty, self-parodying tunes chime while Brown bounds theatrically on stage. Half way through an trick, he will insight to the audience a personal story, which relates to the act whilst remaining interesting. Even the core of his show, the fabled “Svengali,” doll ties in with a very personal motivation. This is a most welcome change; as after all, would half of the audience arrive had Brown instead been an unknown, younger performer? Of course not, is the appropriate answer.

However, just because he has made his tour more personal doesn’t in any way mean that he has sacrificed the aspects that the audience come for. As per usual, (and that which seems to be a necessity in his shows now) the finale is an awe-inspiring display, which encompasses of course elements which could not possibly, yet absolutely have, been predicted. He bring back audience members from earlier on. His cyclonal performance is a beautiful example of what an act like his could be like, given the doubtless hours of thinking that were put into it.

But the most intelligent thing about his performance is the subtle way Derren Brown inserts himself into the head of each individual audience member. Near the end, there were several moments in which the audience were genuinely questioning whether it was even scripted. An additional tombola at the beginning, (which threatened to reveal everyone’s most embarrassing secrets) greatly strengthens an already solid line-up.

The only criticism I could deduce from his performance is that his audience interactions are almost exclusively with the people in the front one hundred seats. As I was positioned near the back, it was far less tense than one would have liked. So if you are thinking of going, book for tickets in the front.

Ultimately though, the answer to whether you should go lies in the clever title. The name, “Svengali,” given by Derren Brown to his auction piece, is defined by the dictionary as a person who, with evil intent, tries to persuade another to do what is desired. If you are even considering going, Derren Brown, (who is the true Svengali of his tour) has already won.

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