Derren Brown: Showman

May 4 2022 | By More

★★★★★   Personal

Playhouse: Tue 3 – Sat 7 May 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

Derren Brown is at the Playhouse all week with Showman, his first new show for six years and, without doubt, a different show to the one he might have been planning on staging before Covid.

Showman draws deeply on personal experience, both Brown’s and his audience’s. And as such it is a triumph of the arts of theatre and empathy; a show that dazzles with its displays of hidden arts and which ends in a glorious coup de théâtre that deserves its standing ovation.

Derren Brown in Showman. Pic: Mark Douet.

Brown has something of a reputation for going to the edge. Creating elaborate set-ups so that he can use suggestion to get his willing participants to do things which they would normally be unwilling to do – and which go beyond the bounds of what is socially (and sometime legally) acceptable.

Showman still contains a certain pleasing edge to it, but the jeopardy is turned down. It is more subtle; less confrontational in terms of offending the audience’s moral compass.

Those same techniques are still used: hypnosis (for want of a better description) and Brown’s seemingly magical talent for cold reading a member of the audience. There is just a more constructive flair to the way he wields them – and it is all the more fascinating for it.

personal, sentimental value

Hints on the way the show might be set up have been given by Brown on social media. He asks his audience to bring an object that has sentimental value, “personal meaning and perhaps a bit of a story behind it” and which is small enough to hold in your cupped hands.

Derren Brown in Showman. Pic: Mark Douet.

It is best to leave any description of the show there. How he uses those objects and the sentiment attached to them is part of the mystique of the production. It gives little away to say that many people have the opportunity to interact one-on-one with Brown – and that the way in which he picks them is both determinedly random and designed to ensure that only the willing are chosen.

Any showman worth watching relies as much on the manner in which they wield their skills and the tricks they have created – their performance – as on the tricks themselves.

Brown has a considerable advantage here, in that he is surrounded by a hugely talented team. Co-directors Andrew O’Connor and Andy Nyman, who also co-wrote the whole piece with Brown, keep everything tight and ensure that the focus is always on where Brown wants it to be.

carefully scripted

Showman might appear to be completely off-the-cuff; indeed that is one of its attractions. In reality it is as carefully scripted and directed as any piece of theatre. As a result, it seamlessly meshes different set pieces – involving a wide range of techniques and skills from Brown – into an emotionally moving whole.

Derren Brown in Showman. Pic: Mark Douet.

Stepping away from the spectacle, and looking back on the evening, all the technical aspects of live video design, blocking, pace and narrative are incredibly well finessed. Simon Higlett’s set provides a carefully manicured framework and Charlie Morgan Jones’s lighting design is a whole realm of magic in itself. And who knows how large Brown’s army of backstage wizards might be, paddling frantically to ensure that everything is calm and unruffled on stage.

spontaneous and fresh

However, clever writing and expert design apart, it is Brown’s delivery which ensures that it feels spontaneous and fresh. Notably, in the way he brings his own personal experiences of the last two years into the show. He does so in a way that is both intensely personal and also in perfect keeping with that onstage persona of his – slightly aloof but hugely relatable.

Brown’s biggest triumph, however, is to be engaging enough to stop you wondering about the mechanics of his tricks and leave you marvelling at the way they are performed. Now that is real magic.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes
Edinburgh Playhouse
Tue 3 – Sat 7 May 2022
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm; Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Derren Brown: Showman on tour:
3 ~ 7 May 2022 Edinburgh
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10 ~ 14 May 2022 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
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24 – 28 May 2022 Bristol
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31 May ~ 4 Jun 2022 Liverpool
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7 ~ 11 June 2022 Woking
New Victoria Theatre
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14 ~ 18 June 2022 Nottingham
Theatre Royal
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21 ~ 25 June 2022 Wolverhampton
Grand Theatre
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5 ~ 16 July 2022 Salford Quays
The Lowry
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19 ~ 23 July 2022 Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
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26 ~ 30 July 2022 Southampton
Mayflower Theatre
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8 ~ 14 August 2022 Dartford
Orchard Theatre
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16 ~ 20 August 2022 Bournemouth
Pavillion Theatre
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23 ~ 27 August 2022 Leeds
Grand Theatre
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30 Aug ~ 3 September 2022 Southend
Cliffs Pavilion
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6 ~ 10 September 2022 Birmingham
The Alexandra
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13 ~ 17 September 2022 Newcastle
Theatre Royal
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27 Sep ~ 1 Oct 2022 Ipswich
Regent Theatre
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4 ~ 8 October 2022 Oxford
New Theatre
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11 ~ 15 October 2022 Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre
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18 ~ 22 October 2022 Stockton
The Globe Theatre
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25 ~ 29 October 2022 Northampton
Royal & Derngate
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