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Dreadful Nonsense

"I've read your blog. it's really funny. you should write a column." - Jon Ronson

Right then. Let’s deal with Derren Brown.

Allow me to preface this rant with the clarification that I have never once in my life been able to do a single magic trick. This is because I have never tried to. I have never read a single book about magic in my life, and everything that I know about magic and illusion comes from watching television. I am, as Mentalist Derren Brown kept telling me last Saturday night, a reasonably intelligent person and am blessed with a healthy amount of logic and cynicism. Importantly, I am aware that MAGIC DOESN'T EXIST, so I am already aware that everything Evil Derren Brown does with his mind melding is not magic but trickery. My joy in watching his television show is trying to work out how he does the things he does, if his claims that he doesn't use "actors" or "stooges" is true. I can't usually quite work out how he's done it, and that's where the joy of his illusions lies for me. I like the feeling of wool over my eyes.

I was therefore deeply disappointed by the two hour long extravaganza that we went to see in Hammersmith on Saturday because, with only one exception, I was able to work out exactly how he did every single trick in the two hour show. He started with the usual preface that he achieves his tricks through showmanship, psychology and misdirection, and all that jazz - but we noted immediately that he didn't say that no actors would be used during the show (mind you, for full disclosure, we did miss the very first minute due to an over enthusiastic door lady who wouldn't let us in even though Wicked Derren Brown wasn't even on the stage).

For anyone who saw this Olivier Award Winning Show, and still don't quite know how he achieved what he achieved, the most important thing to remember, in terms of how El Derren Brown did his tricks, were that there were cameras on the ceiling.

I'll say that again: there were cameras on the ceiling.

We know this because, during some card tricks, the ceiling cameras (those cameras that were on the ceiling looking down on the action) were used to project what was happening on to a big screen behind them, so we could all enjoy the magic close up. So there was no denying the presence of the cameras.

One more time for clarity: THERE WERE CAMERAS ON THE CEILING.

Therefore, for example, can you work out how he correctly named the one person out of five that was lying? Not thanks to body language. Not thanks to how they walked up to the microphone. Not thanks to tone of voice, or hesitation, or looking off to the left, or blushing. He knew because HE KNEW WHO WAS HOLDING THE BLACK BALL, THANKS TO THE CAMERA ON THE CEILING. Similarly, he worked out the surname of the person the lady had her first crush on not thanks to her standing perfectly still with her eyes closed and repeating the name over and over again in her head, but because THE CAMERA ON THE CEILING SAW WHAT SHE WROTE ON THE PIECE OF PAPER.

Are we all clear as to how the camera on the ceiling worked in Derren Brown’s favour? That's how the card tricks were done. That's how he knew which colour envelope they'd chosen. That's how he "guessed" everything ever written down. Have we got that? Good. Now we can move on.

The one thing I can't work out is how he walked across a long line of broken glass with bare feet and didn't cut himself. There was a hand held camera on stage at this point, and that zoomed in so that we could see up close Mental Derren Brown’s feet on the glass, and could hear the lovely crunching sound. I loved all the build up with the plastic bag over his head, the "explanation" of how he was going to lower his blood pressure to such a level that he wouldn't bleed, all the giddiness afterwards when his pulse "returned to normal" and the beating out of his heart tapped on the microphone, but that, ladies and gentlemen, was just a prime example of misdirection on a grand level. Even if he had managed to "lower his blood pressure", logic dictates that, on return to a normal level, any cuts would thereafter start bleeding. Even lying with his face in the broken glass and a member of the audience standing on his head didn't seem to pierce the Derren Brown Skin, and I don't know why. I did however note that, although the hand held camera was all about the close ups while walking, they didn't show a close up of his face or feet once he'd done the walking. I don't know why - that would only have added to the impressiveness of the stunt - so I can only assume that Mr Derren Brown was, in fact, bleeding slightly after the event, and they chose not to show it.

That, though, was the highlight of the show for me, because it was genuinely impressive. The grand finale was what really got to me, in terms of huge disappointments.

This centred around the fact that Master Derren Brown was able to guess one word (the word was 'fascinated') out of all of the Saturday newspapers, one word seemingly chosen at random, which was something like a one in an impossibly large number (something that involved badillions, I think). The choice of newspaper came from 10 papers, the page number was picked at random, the page was then torn into pieces, and one out of these 20 pieces was chosen, then a member of the audience chose one word from this one piece, and Vile Derren Brown managed to get it right and there was great applause and everyone was happy. Then Mr Devastating Revelation Derren Brown "showed" us how he'd done the trick - through subliminal suggestions planted throughout the show.

He had said the word "Daily", he had said "Mail", he had said "Daily Mail", he had said "page 13" and he had even said the phrase "tear around fascinated" at one point, and all of these were played back to the gob smacked as if he was revealing the freaking Da Vinci Code.

People around us stood up and started applauding, as if he'd just brought Lazarus back from the dead. I was ABSOLUTELY GUTTED. Because, gents and ladies, I'd leaned over to He Who Only... not three minutes before hand and said "he's palmed something there", and that, just that, was how the trick was done.

About 20 minutes beforehand, he had driven a large nail through his nose. I know how this trick is done, and will share the secret with you now - this trick is done by driving a large nail through your nose. Simple as that. This had caused him to have a bit of a runny nose afterwards, and he kept blowing it.

Which is a classic example of misdirection, distracting you from what he’s doing with the other hand. And it gives him ample excuse to keep putting his hand in his pocket.

So when he was passed the bits of paper that were torn up by a member of the audience, he was actually holding the pre-prepared bits of paper in the other hand, each of which said exactly the same thing. I can say for certain that they all said exactly the same thing, not because we saw all of those pieces of paper, but because we didn't see any of them. Although the ceiling camera (which I think I've mentioned before) was well able to zoom right in, it didn't. Which meant there was something we weren't meant to see.

The entire crux of the show, the devastating biggest trick and "reveal", the magnificent example of mind manipulation that had people giving a standing ovation, crying and calling out for Mr Derren Brown to be either made King of the Land or Burnt at the Stake, was a very simple (admittedly well executed) piece of misdirection, palming and substitution.


I did enjoy the show, but dear Lord Baby Jesus I was disappointed. We were totally overcharged for such a piece of standard stage show frippery that the tiniest of child could have seen.

The Emperor? He Has No Clothes On, people.


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