Event: Derren Brown: Enigma
Venue: Harrogate International Centre
Date: Sunday 3rd May 2009
Enigma: ‘a mysterious or puzzling person or thing’. This has to be the only way to describe the mesmerising Derren Brown, and it is a fitting title to his 2009 sell-out tour. Through his unfailing mixture of magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship, Derren’s superior form of ‘mind control’ left the audience awestruck. There is no doubt that this extremely perceptive performer is far more than your average magician.
The mood of the audience was one of fearful anticipation. Yet Derren’s witty script and clever dialogue made the show upbeat and jovial. Whilst most sat in a state of enthralled admiration, Derren worked his magic to convince the cynics of his plausibility, selecting his audience participators at random by flinging Frisbees into an expectant crowd. However, as Derren stresses throughout the performance, nothing in human behaviour is random. All his tricks, from ‘mind reading’, ‘contacting the dead’ and even physical control are performed through a series of suggestion and psychology. The audience were left feeling powerless; to Derren we were mechanical humans who can be read easily and manipulated to act in ways beyond our control. Derren is clearly the most extraordinary of puppet masters.
The second half saw Derren attempt to put the whole audience into a trance by imitating a catatonic state through playing unusual tones over the speakers. The sense of fear was heightened beforehand, when Derren advised many not to return if they felt uncomfortable with the process. The remaining audience were easily entranced, with the most suggestive members rising in a zombie state and bought forward onto the stage. They were made to carry out a number of tasks to highlight their susceptibility to his mind control, including drinking vinegar as smoothly as a fine wine. Yet, there was no feeling of humiliation present with most ‘hypnotists’, just an incredulous sense of astonishment.
Everything from the antiquity of his stage setting to Darren’s sometimes falsely uncomfortable persona is designed to submerge every sensory perception of the audience into the performance. We were unwittingly being controlled and manoeuvred through a series of back stories and suggestion. Yet, Derren’s explicit honesty with the crowd is refreshing. He tells us we are being controlled, and reiterated that he is not a psychic. In fact, his aim is to prove that there is no such thing as psychic ability. Mind control is discipline like any other; it simply takes a huge intellect and tremendous perception to master the art.
The elaborate finale ensured the audience left feeling completely blown away, convinced of their own lack of free will and assured that nothing is random. Rather than be bemused, however, the crowd were able to laugh heartedly at their own manipulation, singing along to a certain ‘pop band’ who, although unregistered by the audience, featured throughout the entire performance. Derren left to a roaring standing ovation, whilst the audience undoubtedly left questioning how far they know their own minds, if at all.