Review: Derren Brown: Showman @ The King’s Theatre

By Fred Bruce

Fred reviews the infamous hypnotist’s latest stage show.

Derren Brown’s particular blend of psychology, hypnotism and good old fashioned stage magic has rightly earned him a cherished place in British culture. His work on stage and screen is universally captivating, but it’s his charisma that elevates him above many of his contemporaries and tempers any negativity such “trickery” can provoke.

His current program – the aptly titled Showman – is deliberately shrouded in secrecy, with Brown urging audiences, reviewers, and participants not to reveal any details of the event after the fact. While this makes for a challenging retrospective, the attempt to provide a wholly unspoiled experience is a commendable approach, and one that banks on the showman’s appearance alone as a selling point.  

However, Showman is as much a vehicle for life lessons as it is a showcase of Brown’s signature illusions. Thematically, the performance centres on understanding the past and appreciating the present, allowing an emotionally powerful narrative to unfold beneath the smoke and mirrors. The climactic finale forgoes illusions entirely (barring an ingenious post-show reveal) yet still makes for the high point of the show.

The performance is split into two acts, with the second standing as the stronger of the pair (at least on this night). This difference in quality, in vague terms, primarily came from what appeared to be confusion among participants and theatre staff, leading to an unfortunate handful of damp squib reveals. Always the professional, however, Brown’s charismatic stage presence navigated through the mishaps to craft a nonetheless entertaining first leg.

Act two ran far smoother and included enough call-backs and parallels to ensure the show stayed cohesive and, ultimately, incredibly rewarding. It is a testament to his showmanship that, despite the incidents, Brown continued to captivate a sold-out Saturday night crowd through to the final soliloquy. He has a chameleon ability to slip in and out of various “personas” in his tone, rhythm, and stage presence generally. In comparison to earlier projects such as Apocalypse or The Experiments, Showman’s somewhat scaled-back presentation allows him to explore and utilise this metamorphism to a far greater degree. This coincides with Brown’s focus on narrative and personal storytelling, lulling the audience into comfort to make the illusionary centrepiece all the more thrilling.

Showman pays homage to the great mentalists of the past, using time-honoured templates to create astonishing elevations that keep the tricks feeling incredibly fresh. The secretive nature of the show prevents any further explanation, which I strongly believe is for the best. Brown’s performance highlights the vibrant potential for magic and prediction as a medium for touching, emotionally potent storytelling, even between individuals to whom audiences have no connection. Blending wit, humour, and delicate writing with genuinely breath-taking illusions makes Showman a wonderful piece of theatre that only a master like Derren Brown could pull off. Elements of the performance still linger in my mind days after viewing – despite his adage that nothing he does is “magic”, Brown truly can make you believe the unbelievable. 

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