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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Did you hear the latest? » » Derren Brown - Infamous - A Review (2 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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mitchmagi
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“Infamous” is the title of Derren Brown’s much awaited new live stage show that opened in the dreary town of Dartford, England on Fri 15th March. Currently in previews – the show will soon be touring the hills of merry old Britain – before settling in for a likely West End run in 2014.

There has been great buzz surrounding the return of Andy Nyman to the creative team. Having collaborated on much of Derren’s early material, the show was somewhat of a triumphant reunion for the two performers ... and the promise of more groundbreaking material with Nyman in the role of Director and co-writer.

It is impossible to get to grips with a show of this nature without analysing certain aspects in great detail. As such – for those who will be seeing the show at any time in the future – this is your opportunity to read no more. Infamous is in previews. It is not a finished product and things will no doubt change. I saw the show on opening night ... and this review is that of the performance that was presented. For those who wish to retain the surprise – you may now take your leave. I strongly urge you to do so. There are, however, thousands of others around the globe who sadly will not get to see the show... and will want to know more. The decision to read on is entirely your own.


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Still with us ? Here goes ...

The scene and expectation for Infamous was set long before one even stepped foot in the theatre. The poster is one of the best I have seen. It is frighteningly simple – yet unbelievably disarming. A simple chair with an ominous face etched into a cracked wall. There is a feeling of unease.

On arrival in the theatre – the sensation continues. Simon Higlett's stage design is brilliant. An industrial crypt with exposed rock walls and plaster falling ... I don’t know whether I’m stuck in a mental asylum or locked in a century old castle with iron-clad doors. This has the look and feel of a true theatrical experience – that to rival any West End show in scale and size. The excitement is palpable – this is going to be good ...

The theatre is plunged into darkness – the audience goes crazy - and a single overhead beam illuminates Derren now seated on the single chair on stage. Gone is the classic look of a turn-of-the-century conjuror in top hat and tails with devil goatee - instead replaced with a newly shorn head and more casual look. For nearly 10 minutes – we have an incredibly open monologue about Derren’s experience of admitting to being gay at age 31. The experience of enormous secrets that burden you so – his unease at being different, growing up, he tells us about perspectives – of being trapped inside our heads. This is not an opening to a magic show, but an honest reflection of a performer. It is unique and meaningful ... and for an entire 10 minutes we have, amazingly, not seen a single trick.

From such a disarmingly different opening – we move to demonstrations of apparent ‘cold reading’ – guessing the number of children a spectator has, how many cats & dogs, and thought of words appearing in envelopes on stage. Telephone numbers are written down, predictions revealed and the first magic component of the show is complete. The segment is impressive in execution and gives the audience what they want. Derren is a consummate performer who clearly has the gift of the gab.

75 golden tickets we are told will soon be descending from the heavens – those lucky enough to catch a ticket will be able to get a different view of the show in the second half – seated on stage in a special gallery section. A dangling fuse descends from the rafters ... the fuse is lit ... the flame goes up ... an enormous explosion ... and all eyes await the arrival of the tickets from the skies – desperate to be a part of the on-stage action. Unfortunately opening night gremlins prevented the tickets from manifesting – and without missing a beat – Derren invited those wanting to be a part of the on-stage audience to simply line-up during the interval.

Golden ticket ‘distribution’ out the way – it was time for ‘Bank Night’ – a 12 year old youngster ... two envelopes and 50 GBP in play. The envelope is chosen ... and the youngster guesses right ... walking away with 50 GBP! A happier volunteer you would not have found. And in envelope number two you may ask ? 300 GBP ...

This was classy – and how Bank Night is meant to be done. How many other performers do you know that are prepared to give away 50 GBP each night – rather than coming across like the jerk magician in every other routine out there ... you guessed wrong – sorry for you. Kudos to Derren ...

BUT why are we performing Bank Night and what does this possibly have to do with Infamous ? And where on earth is the connection to anything of significance ?

The question is starting to gnaw at me.

From Bank Night we move to a Chair Test. A standard chair test at that with colored envelopes, numbers and gift boxes. I’m starting to worry. The routine is pedestrian ... it lacks context. Where is the brilliance I’m so desperately after ?

Hopefully it was coming.


“Hypnosis” has long been a staple of Derren’s live shows – and this was no different. But technology and theatricality truly come to the fore in this particular induction process. With the audience on their feet – Derren sets out to decide who will receive this special 'gift' of utmost confidence he is about to bestow ( and as such, who is most susceptible to his suggestion. ) With a dramatic change – the lights go out – Derren’s booming voice fills the room and a swinging light rocks across the stage from side to side as if a massive pendulum. The visual is incredible. Derren’s voice gets more and more urgent. Louder and louder. As the standing audience breathes in and out – the back wall now is now replaced with an incredible full size projection of itself so as each breath is taken, the very back wall shakes and shudders in unison to the breath. The wall expands ... the wall contracts. The animation is uncanny - a subtle detail - but oh so beautiful.

A single volunteer is chosen and brought on stage – clearly now under suggestion. We are told how we are limited by our own perspectives and a shift in viewpoint can change the most pressing of problem. A container is brought on stage and an object is placed inside out of view from the audience. The volunteer reaches down within and describes the object by touch ... clearly a teaspoon we are told. The flap is lowered and that’s no teaspoon – but instead a giant soup ladle! A matter of perspective? Once more – the box is covered – object inserted ... a leather wallet the volunteer describes ... cover removed and contained within is no wallet but an enormous tarantula!

A very clever piece that is well motivated and executed ... Hypnosis done intelligently.

To end the first half – a casket-style bed is wheeled on stage – surrounded by candles. The volunteer climbs atop and is soon put under ... The back projection changes and we are now inside a church with streaming light cascading through the stained glass windows. A seating gallery appears from the depths of the back wall ( for the ‘golden ticket’ holders from earlier in the show ) and the audience starts to file up during interval to take their seats on stage ... The image is surreal. It’s as if we are at a funeral – a mausoleum of the macabre.

The first half clocks in at 1 hour 10 min. Its been a mixed bag – some good, some random ... but things are picking up. We are surely building up steam for an incredible second half. And with the image of the mausoleum so fresh ... excitement is high.

21 minutes of interval later ( Derren’s precision ) he is back ... the volunteer is still asleep. Some 50+ audience members are now seated on stage – and we learn of Derren's father’s battle with cancer. In dealing with the illness – a friend had recommended that his father consider homeopathy. Being of skeptical mind – Derren declined the offer to which the retort came that he needed to be more open minded.

Derren dons a white lab coat – the back wall changes from church to sterile operating room and we are treated to a stellar performance of psychic surgery on our hapless volunteer. Blood oozes. Intestines are moved. Organs are flung out.

Open minded: A concept of changing your belief on evidence - not simply changing them on hope.

Its a moving piece that marries magic with meaning. And answers the question – why should I care?

Unfortunately the shine was not to last.

In an uncharacteristic turn – Derren resorts to a hackneyed motivation of being banned from a casino to introduce a very out of place card sequence. Cards are manipulated – back palm beautifully exposed to those still seated on stage – vanishing into rose petals for the female assistant. A stunning sequence for a magician but since when is Derren a magician ?

The man controls minds, influences thoughts – and had a member of the British public believe that the Apocalypse was upon them ... why is he doing card tricks ?

If back palms weren’t enough – we then move into an arduously long 10 Card Poker Deal demonstration with revelation of second deals, bottom deals, fake deals and the power of influence in determining hands. It is so out of place coming from a man who just moments ago was telling us about shifting perspectives and changing beliefs ... Where is the relevance and why should I care ?

The card sequence continues with a tip of the hat to David Berglas and the holy grail of magic – any card at any number. Both are identified by name and surprisingly even Richard’s most recent work on the subject gets a mention in that “a 500 page tome has been written on the subject”

“Manipulating people rather than deck” – we have a multiphase revelation which draws audible gasps from the audience.

To end the show –a countdown clock is projected on the back wall ... 7 minutes to the end of the show Derren proudly exclaims. He tells us of a memorisation project that was meant to be a feature of a TV show ... that project never came to fruition – and seeing that he has done the memorisation work – he is including it now in the show. A strange motivation if ever there was one ... we are going to end the show on a random throwaway effect that didn’t make the cut elsewhere ? Why are you telling me this ?

Derren would have us believe that he has proudly memorised a collection of random books - the London bus route schedule, the complete works of Shakespeare and a copy of the Bible amongst others.

And to test these powers – groups of audience members throw dice in clear bowls to generate a random 8 digit number. How have we gone from such simplicity and significance to a cluttered mess on stage with trestle tables – glass bowls, dice & rubics cubes ? We’ve lost the plot completely.

Before we delve into complete chaos – we get a pithy reminder that ‘jocks never had to forge their own way in life’ ... and that even though he was called ‘spazbrain’ at school – know this – things do get better. It's an uplifting message that does not belong in its current convoluted triviality ...

The countdown begins.

63451252 is our mystical number ... route 634 in the London Bus schedule ... the full schedule is rattled off from start to finish.

Page 512 in Shakespeare – the exact lines are recited. Verses in the bible are quoted verbatim and the 52nd element in the periodic table of elements is revealed. Why ? Heaven alone knows.

And is if the power of memory holds no bounds – Derren proudly recites off the names of all the volunteers used in the show ... whilst assembling glasses of water in a pyramid with 3 eggs balancing atop. Yes – I am just as lost as you.

For a man who can ostensibly memorise the complete works of Shakespeare – memorising 10 names should not raise a sweat. Why then is it so blatantly obvious that he is reading the names from a list attached to the suitcase out of which the mystical egg balancing apparatus is appearing ? And why are we having eggs balance atop glasses of water ?

Questions to which we get no answers.

Do you remember that 8 digit number 63451252 ? Add it to another number given by a random person in the audience ... add the two together ... audiences get out your calculators ... unbelievable ... it's the telephone number of the first volunteer used in the beginning of the show.

Good night and goodbye.

And that was Infamous. From to cancer to calculators and everything in between.

Was the show entertaining? Absolutely. Is it anywhere near as good as it needs to be ? No where close.

The title ‘Infamous’ plays no role at all in proceedings ... nor is mentioned at all in performance. How can this be ? There is no cohesive narrative to the show. If anything – the show would be better titled "Obsessions" ... a look inside the world of Derren’s thoughts and fixations - at least we would then have a tenuous link between the disparate segments. And how can we have introduced the plot point of changing perspectives and yet make no reference to the audience assembling on stage to change their very own perspective ? Changing their perspective of the show - of life - it screams to be explored particularly with the image of the mausoleum remaining the most powerful of all in the performance.

The stage design is world-class, the projection amazing – and an environment created in which to work the impossible. Derren is a consummate entertainer. And yet the magic ranges from the pedestrian to the sublime .... but seldom reaches the level of jaw dropping that we have come to expect from this talented man. In fact – the finale is predictable and formulaic to any who have seen his previous shows ... and lacks any iota of significance when stacked next to his message of things get better.

Derren is in a unique position of having access to some of the most creative minds in theatre. Not just creative minds in magic – but creative minds in theatre. There is an opportunity here to have told a story that reaches human emotion and transcend simple tricks with coloured envelopes and rubics cubes. That opportunity is sorely lost.

We are dealing with powerful human elements ... a story of a man wrestling with identity, people limited by beliefs, overcoming obstacles and changing perspectives. We touch on difficult childhoods, the agony of not fitting in and of forever being different. We speak of cancer, of hope and thoughts and desires ... these are the building blocks of a performance unlike any other. This is the show that Infamous was meant to have been.

And yet – we never reach there. Never quite able to take that leap of honest exploration and allow the story to overcome the magic.

Allow the story to overcome the magic. A poignant thought indeed ... not just for Derren but for any performer who dares to create a performance that really matters. Experiences that remain with an audience long after the lights have dimmed and the curtains closed ... an experience with an intoxicating power over both the heart and mind.

That is true magic indeed.

--> The accompanying images can be found here http://thoughtsontheworld2013.blogspot.com/
oralroberts
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Hi Craig,

Thank you so much for this in depth and critical analysis of Derren's latest show.

Much appreciated.
Mindpro
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Nice review. This is a shame and why he doesn't hit well in the states.
landmark
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Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed review. Can't wait to see the vid of it.
"I use my five illusions to create the sense I'm useful to six."



You can read my daily blog at Musings, Memories, and Magic
mitchmagi
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Just an update ... this original review was featured on the Genii Forum. It was deleted by the moderators at the request of the show's producers!

"RK Edit: The producers of the show have asked that the description of the show itself be removed since this was an early preview and it gave away far too much. I agree."

Whether the show is in previews or not is immaterial. Once tickets are sold and presented to the public - it is open for comment and review. Producers cannot attempt to shutdown discussion and discourse because we are still "tinkering" or because the producers do not agree with what is said.

Case in point ... Spiderman on Broadway and Love Never Dies in the West End had extended preview periods. The show was changed multiple times. Every iteration and every preview performance generated comment and thought from thousands of viewers.

Magic is no peculiarity. We are not an island. Even more so when you enter the theatrical realm in the digital age. Censoring comment on a public performance at a paid event at the request of producers is a slippery slope.
landmark
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Agreed, you have every right to review this as an appreciative fan; however, I think for a public review in a newspaper or magazine where dollars count, more leeway should be given to the performers. It's not unusual for a play to need previews to tighten up a show and see what really works and doesn't work in front of an audience. As such, I would not want to be judged by a big-time reviewer on a show that has not been frozen yet. The performers deserve a reviewer-free time to work things out.
"I use my five illusions to create the sense I'm useful to six."



You can read my daily blog at Musings, Memories, and Magic
yankay37
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Wow... man.. I wish he would do a show in Toronto, Canada.
I've actually seen a lot of videos of Darren Brown doing magic tricks, even with cards.
He is very good at it, and it looks like he enjoys it... so why not?
Alwow
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First Mitch, you are an excellent writer. This review was written better than many pieces I have read by professionals on various topics. I read this in its entirety simply because your writing took me on the journey which I try to create for my audiences. So bravo to you.

In regards to the show, I kept waiting for everything for you described and how all of these random aspects of the show were unsuspectingly and miraculously brought together with the "invisible bow" that Derren is so widely known for creating in our minds. (Turning the proverbial hoses on them as we say) I hope that the finished product of this will improve and reach the potential it seems to have. I think many will enjoy the personal aspects of the show and getting to see behind his personal mind veil.

Secondly I hope a version of this is made available to the masses to enjoy once finalized. I have been recently watching his performances more for how confident and commanding of a stage presence Derren is vs. what is actually occurring.

Again Mitch thanks for sharing.
"Everything I show you is the truth... And the truth is the loveliest of lies"
dandowling
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Saw the show in Liverpool on Wednesday night - a lot of your issues have been addressed. Still a couple of areas that seem a little out of place, but otherwise a truly powerful evening.
2BobWorth
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That is not a review, it is a spoiler.
From someone who could not come close to creating what Derren and Andy Nyman and their team have created.

Fortunately, I held back from reading this before seeing the show yesterday. I have nothing negative to say. All the way home we were trying to think how they did some things, particularly the mind reading. And I have no idea how it is done.

Maybe Derren hypnotized me to think this, but I think he is one of the all time great magicians/mentalists and he is performing in our time now. See him if you possibly can.
Alfster
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Hell, that review was full of spoilers.

I saw it last night and really enjoyed it. My friend and myself worked out how he did prety much everything but we have some magical knowledge...the average punter would not have any idea even the very very bold group thing in the second half.

No golden tickets falling from the sky but people were asked to go up if they were interested in a certain section of the woo-woo industry - which I think was a good change.

Derren's previous shows have had more of a narrative/build on an idea. This one did not have that as strongly...but why should it?

The second half of the show was stronger than the first half. Nothing wrong with a standard chair routine - Brown continually does the same tricks in different shows wrapped differently.

He did move away from his 'usual' everyone write something down on some paper and pop it into the bowl on the stage.

The finale built superbly and the time limit was well used - Brown doesn't do these shows for magicians he does them for the general public at large for people to have a WTF evening and this show does it.

Since getting into magic more over recent years I have realised I have had to start to enjoy watching magic shows in a different way knowing how somethings can be done but remembering back to when I didn;t know I would have been stunned.

In fact, I was really slow last night in clocking the methods to the point that my mate had to slap me a couple of times over drinks after the show when I couldn't work out how a few things had been done...it brought back to me that sheer wonder of magic tricks that I had stopped getting...the reviewer at the top of this post has really forgotten about that innocent wonder of seeing the impossible...last night, due to my slowness!, that feeling came back to me and the realisation of what 99.9% of that audience was feeling when they know nothing about the banaless of how magic is done.

**************************

Hmmm, the reviewers link to the blog and the photos of the show...I think that sums up the reviewers mindset - people were asked not to take photos - a shame the person didn;t have the respect, self-control and simple decency to even acquiesce to that request.
mikelsc
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Very nice review, thanks man Smile
NFW
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Saw the show last night, superbly entertaining evening from a consummate professional. Couple of minor niggles but to a layman a very impressive two hours! Actually an impressive two hours what ever your background....
jlevey
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Kindly post any links to clips from this show. Smile
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NFW
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Don't believe there are any, Derren is very secretive about the content un surprisingly!
JamieUK
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I agree this review is a little too in depth, especially as it relates to a preview. I saw the show on Friday, and a lot of those issues are addressed. Not wanting to go into too much detail, the theme/storyline (in my understanding) is Derren's past, his perceptions of the world, and also perceptions of him. He starts with the monologue about being stuck in your own head, and references his 'coming out', then moves though childhood memories (of the audience), the envelopes with a child, on to the card phase (from his card magic period), and ends with the countdown scenario relating to people's perception of his geekiness as a schoolboy. It was less flashy than his previous recent shows, perhaps a little more like 'evening of wonders'. I thought it lacked a proper climax, but was rewarded in the last 1 second. I liked it.
Jonathan Townsend
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About that last second... Was that from your perspective as a magician or audience response?
...to all the coins I've dropped here
JamieUK
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To be a bit more balanced, I think perhaps the finales of enigma and Svengali were more dramatic and built better tension for the final denouement. Infamous is a more personal show. I preferred it for this reason.
JamieUK
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Hmmm - hard to say. I sometimes think his revelations perhaps suffer wrt the too perfect theory (sometimes a final disclosure proves the original information must have been known before the show) - not so much in this case. It caught me by surprise - it linked to a piece that had previously seemed v trivial and inconsequential, it was a bit of a kicker. Nicely teed up I thought. My reaction was that of a goon, not a magus, because the revelation came out of nowhere and I hadn't seen it coming.
Interestingly Andy Nyman and a few guys dressed up as magicians dressed up as normal people were sitting further along the row taking notes in a Beano jotter, so further changes may occur.
mitchmagi
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@alfster - "people were asked not to take photos - a shame the person didn't have the respect, self-control and simple decency to even acquiesce to that request. "

On the night of my performance - no such request was made with regards to taking of photos at all. The pics in question were taken prior to the start of the show & during interval ... not during the performance.
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