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Derren Brown: Man of Mystery

Derren Brown
Derren Brown

There is no rest for the wicked and Derren Brown is back with new live show Infamous. The master illusionist has chosen Dartford as the starting point for his UK tour, and he spoke to Kathryn Tye about what tricks might be up his sleeve…

It’s about as far from the Paul Daniels’ Magic Show as you can get. Since making his TV debut more than 10 years ago, Derren Brown’s shows have redefined the genre and courted controversy at the same time.

He has played Russian Roulette on live television, convinced ordinary businessmen to commit an armed robbery, predicted the lottery, and even hypnotised a man to assassinate national treasure Stephen Fry.

In addition to his TV work, he has also been shocking audiences with a succession of stage shows and winning Olivier awards along the way with both his 2006 stage show Something Wicked This Way Comes and last year’s Svengali.

Now he is about to make himself at home at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre for more than a week as he sets out on a UK tour of his new show, appropriately called Infamous.

And despite his huge success, the 42-year-old admits he still gets nervous. “Starting a new tour is always nerve racking. Due to the nature of my shows, with lots of audience participation, you can rehearse as much as you want, but there is no way of actually knowing what will happen, or whether people will connect with what you are doing.

“The crew try to help in rehearsals by pretending to be members of the public, but it isn’t the same. The first night in Dartford will be the first time I have actually performed the show in its entirety. It is terrifying, but the only way is to jump into it.”

Brown has reunited with long-term collaborator and friend Andy Nyman for Infamous, and although he is unwilling to reveal any specific content as “it would spoil the surprise”, he said: “It is the sixth tour I have done, and there was something of a template we followed for the others, but we have tried to make this one different. Hopefully people will like it.”

Indeed, whether material works with the audience in Kent will have a big impact on the show’s content for the rest of the tour.

He said: “There is always a lot that gets changed, as some bits don’t quite work, or others take much longer than I think. What audiences in Dartford see on the first night will be very different to the show at the end of the tour.”

Derren Brown
Derren Brown

But despite the stresses of live theatre, Brown admits that he prefers it to his TV work.

“I enjoy the stage shows more than anything else. Making a TV show is a very long process, and can be quite stressful, all for an hour-long programme. The stage show is fun to write and rehearse, and then there is the adrenaline rush from performing it, with instant feedback from the audience. And live on stage is the best place for what I do: it’s unpredictable, and the audience knows there’s no possibility of judicious editing.”

It wasn’t editing, but suspicions of foul play which dogged his last major TV special Apocalypse, shown last year. It saw Brown convince a member of the public that a meteor shower had hit earth and he was one of a small group of survivors living in a zombie wasteland.

Rumours spread on Twitter that victim Steven Brosnan was in fact a professional actor, and the entire thing was staged.

Brown said: “It is inevitable there is suspicion when you are doing this kind of show, but the problem is that when something like that gets going on Twitter, people talk about it like it’s a fact. It is a bit frustrating, as we spent months working on the project, and really put our hearts and soul into it, but it’s something you can’t do much about.”

And the suspicion continues in real life for Brown.

He said: “One of my friends recently admitted to me that when he first met me, he suspected that I would be reading his mind and trying to manipulate him, until he got to know me better. But I would never be that person in real life. Some people seem to think that I have actual powers – it is all just an act, that I perform on stage.”

Brown will be on stage a lot during the next few months, with a staggering 84 dates around the UK in the next three months.

He has given himself just one day off during his eight-night run at the Orchard – Sunday, March 17, St Patrick’s Day. Laughing, he said: “I didn’t book it off specifically to celebrate, I just fancied a day off, but I am a Guinness fan, so I expect I will have a pint or two of the black stuff!”

So, pub landlords in Dartford beware – something wicked your way is coming.

Derren Brown will be at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, from Friday, March 15, to Saturday, March 23. Tickets from £36.50. It is not suitable for under 12s. Call 01322 220000.

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