The innovative, interesting, unique and talented performer we have seen for a long time in the UK, Derren Brown continues to produce top drawer ideas, live shows and TV programmes. For my money he has made the most interesting and challenging non-fiction TV of the last decade or so. If you doubt the “reality” of his work you should go and see him live when he hits the road next year with his “Infamous” tour that arrives in Aberdeen next July – then you can see for yourself that he is a great showman.
In 2000 I saw “Mind Control” a show that saw Derren on the street and in situations that were a combination of great street magic and mind tricks. I remember vividly being drawn into the final segment of one episode where he challenged ex-SAS man Chris Ryan to set up traps for him on an aerial assault course which Derren walked blindfolded. Only through listening to the responses of Ryan he had to make his way from one end to the other without getting caught in all manner of nasty ways. The look of glee on the former soldier’s face told you that he really wanted Derren to fail, but of course he didn’t. I don’t say that in a negative because it was at that moment he first got his claws into me as a viewer and fan. To make you stop what you’re doing to give your full attention to the screen is the greatest trick that he and his production team have consistently pulled off year after year.
Then there was the show that changed it all for Derren in terms of profile – “Russian Roulette”. Branded as everything from morally disgusting to genius showmanship this was the point that Derren became a public figure. And rightly so – for me this was a risky decision in terms of his career (oh…and his life) but one that paid off beautifully and from that point on he just got better and better. From the Heist to Séance to Messiah he combined shows that were about spectacle and also informative, even educational. Messiah was a real eye opener showing skills like cold reading and psychic powers and got so-called “experts” to endorse him as the real deal.
The Events where he correctly predicted the lottery numbers and stuck people to their armchairs; The System where he successfully got a non-gambler to make bet after bet and succeed each time; Trick or Treat where he gave the member of the public an experience they would never forget; The Experiments where he showed the danger of mob rule in a quiz show format and assassinated Stephen Fry all showed what he was capable of as a performer and teacher. Miracles for Sale was a great piece of television where he trained up a normal man off the street to learn all the tricks of the trade to become a “preacher” in the money-making sense of the word in the USA. The story was riveting and the battle that the gent chosen had as a Christian was an extra angle of interest because he had his faith but understood that Derren was trying to show the cold, nasty and greedy side of these miracle workers making profit from basic trickery.
For me one of the greatest shows he did was Hero at 30,000 feet. It made me shout at the TV and root for the guy at the centre of the show more than anyone I’ve seen on TV before or since. This was more than just a “magic show” or TV show it actually changed Matt’s life in a genuinely moving and brilliant way. You as the viewer were willing him to make those decisions he’d always shied away from and when given the ultimate opportunity to do the right thing he was faced with a massive task: Could he land a plane flying at thirty thousand feet to bring everyone on board to safety? If you haven’t seen it you can get it on 4OD and it’s a great piece of TV – if you’re not tearing up at the and you haven’t got a soul.
There have been several other shows, specials and series throughout a remarkable career that has seen many nominations for award both here at home and internationally. This Friday he’s back with his latest and after the darker tone of last year’s Apocalypse (which was dark but frighteningly good) he returns to a light tone but no less interesting topic – can he get four pensioners to steal a painting in broad daylight from an art gallery even after Derren has told the gallery that it’s going to happen and when? The Great Art Robbery is about our views of the older generation and what we stereotype them as – Derren as always is pushing our beliefs and conceptions.
I am a huge fan of his work and will watch him whether he is doing street magic or incredible stunts. He combines showmanship and intellect fantastically and never speaks down to his audience, he treats us with respect and that is why we always return. He comes across as quite a shy man who doesn’t run towards the limelight of the paparazzi with his personal life, and I’ve no desire to delve into it here because his talent and skill as a performer is what we should focus on. Saying that his photos of his parrot are great and if you follow him on Twitter his posts are as funny, self-deprecating and interesting as he appears on screen. And one last thing is that his art work is sublime. I got his coffee table book Portraits that has painted caricatures (to call them that is a huge disservice) of celebrities and friends and his eye for detail is great. (See his website here http://derrenbrown.co.uk/art/)
Whatever his next big project is I’ll be happy to watch, go to it or buy it as he really is the most interesting and creative talent on our TV. Both the production company behind his shows and Channel 4’s continued faith in him should be applauded. Long may he continue to f*ck with my head!