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mitchmagi
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Derren Brown – Searching for a Miracle … A Review …

And so ended Miracle. A show that is most certainly not one.

Having had a greater insight into the construction of Derren’s performances through his Penguin lecture and Session appearance – it is becoming painfully clear that artistic merit is fast being replaced by commercial considerations. Live shows are being constructed at breakneck speed … Infamous had hardly just finished and rehearsals were already underway for Miracle. Show titles are shoe-horned in and made to fit – purposely generic and decided months before the show is even written - whilst routines are often selected for apparently no other reason than they were easily available and fitted the requisite time slot.

Derren is unfortunately a victim of his own success. He has the set the bar extremely high … and when he doesn’t meet that level, when he doesn’t push himself beyond the norm – it shows.

For any other performer Miracle would suffice. But for Derren - he is capable of so much more.

......................

Now that you’ve read the conclusion – you can decide whether you wish to read the full and complete review of Miracle. As professional production presented to a paying audience, it is an untenable request not to discuss the contents of the performance in a 21st century environment for the sake of “secrecy”.

You, however, as a reader have the choice should you wish to maintain that surprise.

If you intend seeing the show at some point in the future – and wish to keep the contents a secret– read no further.

If you intend to see the show when it gets released on DVD in 2 years time – and wish to keep the contents a secret – please read no further.

The choice is entirely your own.

If, however, you believe there is value to be gained in knowing what our contemporary performers are presenting, what is working and what is not – then that option is open to you.

Disclaimer said – make your decision.
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It’s a grey and dull evening in Oxford ( a cheerful Spring evening I’m told by a local !) as I make the journey to see Derren Brown’s latest touring show “Miracle” - set to play to a capacity crowd of some 1800 at the New Theatre Oxford.

Derren’s last show – Infamous - was a revealing departure from his tried and tested format – it was deeply personal, it was moving and had glimmers of theatrical brilliance. What would Miracle bring … and would it live up to the high standards we have all come to expect from the man who has defined modern mentalism in England and beyond ?

Excitement was palpable as the safety curtain rose revealing an expansive stage set of a “manor house” style drawing room … candelabras on the wall, an easel, along with an image of Chan Canasta to one side and a few chairs and a table. Less is more – but very imposing. Tick, tick, tick … the ominous sound of a giant clock on the back wall counting down the minutes. But stranger still this clock is reversed – a mirror image if you will – a precursor perhaps that all is not what it seems … as this is no simple clock but a projected image. As the clock grows bigger – the hands spin – and the star of the show appears stage left as the crowd erupts.

It’s clear right from the start that no expense has been spared when it comes to production. The visuals are incredible, the projection mapping amazing … and the giant stage set of the ‘drawing room walls’ acting as a virtual backdrop throughout. The future is projection … it has taken hold of all the West End shows and its fantastic to see Derren bring it home to mentalism.

So what Miracle are we in store for tonight ?

The futility of goal seeking, our fixation with the future, our fixation with the past and the stories that define us. But before we can unpack some of these lofty subjects the spectator in the front row is required to look after the obligatory sealed envelope.
Envelope requirements now complied with – we need a character to start our story. Out goes the balloon into the crowd and Derren records on the easel our randomly generated story … “Steven Frye … wearing yellow y-fronts … says bugger off … to David Cameron”
But in addition to our random story generated on stage – a group of audience members we’re told are writing their own made-up story using paper provided to them in their rows. How odd. It’s pitch dark – we know not who these spectators are or how they were selected. Instead – this “random piece of paper” makes its way up on stage from the depths of the auditorium.

A classic example of how NOT to instil confidence that everything is indeed ‘free and fair’. Making promises that no stooges are used is one thing … but if your audience are immediately believing this to even possibly be the case (whether remotely correct or not is immaterial)… we’ve already lost the battle.

But I digress. Our second, somewhat suspect story ( the layperson-seated-next-to-me’s description ) arrives on stage. Derren launches into discerning who the lead character may be in this particular drama – and predicts it spot on – it’s none other than Her Majesty the Queen.

The story reads: “The Queen … wearing a coat … gives non verbal cues … to an elderly racist”

But wait – there’s something inside the balloon that was bouncing about the audience all along … pop the balloon – read the prediction – it matches, too… “Steven Frye and David Cameron and yellow y-fronts” The crowd loves it. And seem to have forgotten about dear Lizzie.

More participation follows as Frisbees go sailing into the audience. But whilst we do that – out comes a box of Quality Street candy. Did we know that Derren has developed the uncanny ability to discern whatever sweet is chosen simply by the sound of the wrapper or the sound of your chewing? No – neither did I. And to be honest – I don’t know whether we should care.

But everything looks better in projection – so the back wall is illuminated in ultra hd glory with all the possible sweet choices now on display - strawberry delight, chocolate éclair, toffee caramel and so many more. Choose a sweet from inside this box held ever so tightly and very suspiciously by a member of the production team who runs about the audience. Oh look – the master of mentalism has correctly guessed the chosen sweet! What an effective use of one’s gift. How did we go from last year revealing our deepest fears and secrets to this year running about guessing candy? A strange departure if ever there was one. Surely if you are considered to be a modern day Yoda – guessing candy is somewhat beneath you ?

Selfie time is up next – as Derren now involves the audience of the internet. A group photo is posted on Twitter live during the show – as the internet is asked to tweet random words to be used in a later experiment.

More Frisbees into the audience – this time to find someone to join Derren on stage. A table for two. And on the menu … a lightbulb. The spectator takes her seat opposite. The lightbulb is crushed – and the unwitting participant places a shard of glass in Derren’s mouth. He grinds it with his teeth, grimaces and swallows. Impressive. But now it’s her turn … for the lightbulb is but a metaphor … a metaphor for taking risks in life. A piece of shattered bulb is placed in the volunteer’s mouth – she is told to chew, she grinds, she swallows. It’s an uneasy situation. Is this real ? Is it not ? The audience not quite sure … did Derren Brown really just make a spectator swallow a piece of smashed lightbulb ? This feels more like Blaine than Brown but whatever the answer – the angst is amazing.

From ‘taking risks’ we’re advised to ‘ignore the things you can’t control’ … this is beginning to sound very self-help. In tennis we tell ourselves “I must win” … when in reality you can’t control how good your opponent is. If you enter the match looking to win – and you ultimately lose, you feel you have failed. Instead, our new guru enlightens us to the way of ‘rather aim to play to the best of your abilities’ – then no matter the outcome, you will never fail. Mmmm … perhaps Dr Phil will be available in the lobby following the show.

Back to the magic. Remember that Twitter photo ? A spectator is tasked with choosing a random word from the thousands posted on Derren’s feed. To help him get into the mood – he’s given a book to hold onto during the process. One connected to the legend of Chan Canasta and his famous book test performed at Foyles in London – or so we are told.
A word is selected. But in a classic case of a spectator not fully understanding the instructions – he chooses his own random word rather than selecting one from the twitter feed – thus killing the ostensible presentation of the “theory of many” … but all is not lost.

A 3 digit number is given … 190 … the book is opened … page 190 is missing! In Derren’s lapel pocket – is a triangle – mistaken for a handkerchief the entire show … it is the missing page 190.

A 2 digit number is given … 13 … this is the line number on the page.
A single digit number is given … 4 … it matches the chosen word !
But Chan Casta has been involved all along – behind his portrait is … you guessed it … the chosen word!

And so ends the first half - All in all a somewhat underwhelming experience.

… the Brits disappear to purchase their interval ice-cream and before you know it – the 20 minutes are up … and we’re back for round 2!

And unfortunately not back with a bang – as we kick off with a somewhat standard rendition of “smash & stab” ( complete with the now obligatory Youtube clips of how not to perform the effect ) Our only departure from the norm is Derren now reciting the words of the “Lord is my shepherd” with the lyrics illuminated in jumbo projection behind. As an effect – there’s nothing inherently wrong with “smash & stab” but it is to mentalism what zombie is to stage magic … been performed to death.

Our lead-up to the show’s title of Miracle now follows with the ‘transformative experience’ that is faith healing. Derren assumes the role of the evangelical healer and the audience the faithful flock. Rising to our seats, we embark on a ‘mass induction process’ – closing our eyes we are bombarded with a multi-sensory experience … blinding lights, deep pounding sounds – as we bask in the healing energy that washes over the audience. It is a powerful sensation. And one that is clearly working. As healer Derren literally knocks spectator after spectator down to the floor with a simple touch of the finger ( or in some cases him literally pushing people down and it appearing that they are staying there to rather keep him happy ) The ill are ostensibly healed … as scores now rush to the stage to share their testimony of how their ailments are no more. From back pain to arthritis everyone and their mother comes share their tale … cue a Power Band type demonstration, a light and heavy chest and we’ll make believers out of you all.

Whilst such testimony is all very nice – we suffer from the self-same problem of the mystery audience members who wrote their own story in the dark. There has been no fairness or randomness to those giving testimony … the side of the stage was flooded with the “healed” – and Derren did the selection. My ever sceptical seat mate behind posed the valid question “How do I know they aren’t all in on the act?” As magicians we know they didn’t have to be – but the fact that the answer remains a possibility shows an inherent flaw in the construction.

Be that as it may – the demonstrations continue amongst the flock. Spectators are given the gift of the tongues ( whilst pushed to the floor ) others lose their ability to read whilst a final spectactor is given the powerful gift of anointing … as he levitates 3 feet off the ground with blinding lights behind helping with the mechanical stagecraft.

We have so many opposing issues at play. The power of faith. The power of conviction. The audience buy-in. The falsehood of the premise coupled with a levitation with no explanation. Are we to believe this is the good lord at work or illusionist Derren throwing in a magic trick. It’s jarring and I don’t necessarily know in a good way.

As images of the cosmos sail past in high definition glory, Derren advises that we simply need to tell ourselves a different story, to change our lives. We told ourselves the pain was no more and it was gone - and in true disclaimer moment … don’t get rid of the crutch, dispose of your glasses or stop taking your medication. The incongruity of the message is grating.

“You are the real miracle of life.”

And before we end … remember the envelope handed out at the start ? It contains a copy of the Oxford Times from some 3 weeks prior.

And in the classifieds is an advert placed by Derren … “Nail number 3 will remain” ( in case you forgot about the smash & stab )

And inside the newspaper – a photo of Queen Elizabeth and her dear husband - that peculiar story written by the mystery people in the audience … “The Queen … wearing a coat … gives non verbal cues … to an elderly racist”

Miracle not so much.
scottgould
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HI Mitchmagi - I went to see this in Plymouth this week. In fact, this is the reason why I am posting (I don't know anything about magic!)

I just need to find out how he did all the things! It's like I can't rest until I understand it.

The newspaper article in Plymouth was more accurate than your experience in Oxford. It was a paper from that day, with a picture of a man running in a green suit, with 2058 on his chest. The storyline that the crowd had put together was something about a green giant running at 2 minutes to 9 (20:58).
ringmaster
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By projection, do you mean large LED screens with CG images taking the place of flats?
Remember, slightly less than two present of all UFO sightings turn out to be actual extraterrestrial craft.
Borrow three wide brimmed felt hats from the audience.
Dr. Harlan Tarbell
scottgould
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Hi Ringmaster, the way the stage is setup is with projectors, although there is a also a screen that comes down at certain points to hide cables behind it.

I don't know what you mean by flats?

The images that are projected are a range of CG and also live feed at various points.
ringmaster
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Flats are large upright free standing painted scenic elements.
LED flats are big flat screen television screens showing CGI background scenery, or anything else you could put on a TV screen.
Remember, slightly less than two present of all UFO sightings turn out to be actual extraterrestrial craft.
Borrow three wide brimmed felt hats from the audience.
Dr. Harlan Tarbell
scottgould
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Thanks for that

So yes, there are flats in as much as that creates the shape of the stage. Things are projected on the flats. There is one LED flat that comes up and down at certain points as I said.

The flats have things painted on (it's in the style of an old wooden room), but the projected images work easily on top of that.
charlies_hat
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I went to see this in Norwich this weekend, and having been to all but one of the previous shows over a number of years (and also a busy working close up), here is my opinion: Go and see it, you are not wasting a single penny.

The formula is usual: first half light hearted with games / predictions etc, second half taking a more serious tone with a clear message for those that want it, and pure entertainment for others that don't. Either way, it works. For me it's never the 'tricks / effects' (whatever you want to call them), it's the production values and performance presence that always impress me so much. Every moment seems so well thought through and choreographed. I would bet that given the same principles and general effects there are a handful of people in the world that can hold a theatre single handed like this.

So, I don't really go along with mitchmagi - it was a privilege to go and see it.
scottgould
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HI Charlies - glad you enjoyed it.

I've spent some time trying to work out how he did some of it - hence coming here!
charlies_hat
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I could take a punt at quite a few of them, but I really think that takes the enjoyment out of it.

They are not puzzles to be solved, just entertainment to be enjoyed !
scottgould
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I think the enjoyment is in working out how it works!

I've got a few nailed, and am already familiar with his NLP / hypno techniques, it's the bit where the newspaper has the prediction for the story in, and then the one word where people say the page number, line and word number. But I'm still working on them Smile
MagicalFreak3
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Wow thank you so much for the review, I was dying to hear about his new show ! I was hoping you'd give us more details on his russian roulette with spike and his ABILITIES hypnosis segment. But I love this thread.

Also, why are you bashing derren in your review ? Or perhaps it seems that way as your viewing it as a critic now a review.
MarkToland
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Trying to convince the wife to make the trip to see the show next summer. Hear he may give up touring for awhile after "Miracle" so don't want to miss the chance!
Mind reading Web Series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxXGYrmekzI

Member PEA
MagicalFreak3
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I'm dying to see this, can you please explain the "induction" or hypnosis in details PLEASE ?! What do you mean given gifts of the tongue ? Are spectators knocked on the floor in the theater floor or the stage ?! And the curing pain part ?! Thanks Smile .
MagicalFreak3
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I'm assuming no one on the forum here saw it @_@ ....
Kamielus
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Hello there,

Thanks for the review. I saw the show two days ago and was also a little dissapointed.
I saw Svengali en Infamous live and preferred the honest Infamous much better.

Also there were a couple of mistakes in my show that for me revealed some of the routines/techniques he used.
The hot reading of the miracle patients became apparent when he took the wrong Mike (the other Mike with the knee problem was in fact sitting two seats to the left) and in the end between the reveal of the newspaper article and the ad there was a little black flash in the projection which to me revealed the camera trickery used to achieve the effect. Just starting another video clip. I was dissapointed.

I respect Derren deeply. He is the reason I became interested in magic, but I do believe Miracle had to be produced to quickly and is sad to see that although his tv-specials keep on innovating, his stage shows keep the same level.

Nevertheless: he is world class. You still should see him.
It's just that as an avid fan I've seen a lot of his work and in this show he just recuperated some of his old work.
No penny is ever wasted on Derren Brown, but he should really try a little harder.

Kamiel
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Oh, just one more thing:

I didn't spot any switch in the bulb eating routine, he could not really have a spectator eat the real glass, did he?
And sugar glass would melt, right?
Bob Baker
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Hey, Kamielus, saw the show the same night you did as well as the previous night.

I thought it was terrific. The second act was as masterful a performance as you will ever see. A true tour de force. Yes, there were a few "tricks," but mostly it was Derren achieving results simply by the power of his personality in a theatrical setting. And, yes, the spectator really does eat glass.

Mitchmagi: I've known Derren and Andy for over 10 years, and your comments indicate that you really don't have much insight into how the shows are created. A cynical opinion is not the same as knowledge.
mitchmagi
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@Bob-Baker ... keep in mind that the initial review is from April 2015 - and won't reflect the performance you saw in Jan 2016. With hundreds of performances later - the show most certainly will have morphed from its early previews.

With regards to your comment regarding the creation process - I only mentioned that which Derren himself freely shared when he spoke at length at the Sesson event and in his Penguin lecture. I assume you have seen both ? Derren was beyond open regarding the commercial considerations in how the shows are put together with tight deadlines, generic titles, and routines included because they were easily at hand at the time. Your "friendship" may well be colouring your perspective of matters as these were all shared by Derren himself.
Karl M
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I saw the show twice because I got bought tickets for a birthday present after I saw it once but I didn't mind at all. The second time was really better than the first because I still couldn't work out how he was doing most of the tricks so I just sat back and enjoyed the show again. The spectator eating a lightbulb was the best bit really.
TheMagicalMan
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Can anybody describe the "transformation" proccess of the 2nd half of the show ? I mean details of the performance itself of him hypnotizing and curing people ? Thanks.

I have to wait another 5 months minimum I believe to watch the show as I'm 8 hours away from the UK in a different continent 0_0 ...
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