Derren Brown: Revenge of the Nerd

By Karl Hodge

Derren Brown once told a journalist that “most magicians end up being disliked”. It’s a cursed profession, he claimed. Brown’s explanation was that the cockiness required to sell illusions night after night begins to grate. You need more than a smidgen of smugness to make an audience think you’re capable of faking the supernatural, after all.

The conceit that glues together Brown’s current show Infamous is that he knows the meathead mainstream think he’s a “dickbrain”. These are his words. But he goes on to suggest that people have always disliked him… He tells us that he was once bullied and picked on for the very mind fuckery and prestidigious tricks he demonstrates in the show.

This performance? It’s payback.

It’s a smart rouse. Of course it is. Brown gets to show off what a clever clogs he is, while presenting himself as the underdog. “Are you a bit of a weirdo?” is the schtick, “That’s OK. I’m just like you.”

Except, he really isn’t. Infamous demonstrates that Brown is still operating at a level far above that of your average misfit toy.

You can't tell but, in this bit, Derren Brown is taunting a small child. Image by Seamus Ryan.

You can’t tell but, in this bit, Derren Brown is taunting a small child. Image by Seamus Ryan.

When an artist tells you that everything in their show is secret, that sort of constricts you as a reviewer. But if you’ve seen Brown on TV and you go along to Infamous there will be elements you’ll recognise.

Plenty of people will get the opportunity to see it too because, to Brown’s credit, he’s touring this show all over the country. It’s year two now and he’s playing a series of long residencies in city after city across the UK. We saw him on date number three of six nights at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. Good on you, DB.

The core of the show is Brown’s brand of mind reading – which he has always assured us isn’t really mind reading at all. In his earliest appearances on the box he dressed it up as extreme fluency in none-verbal communication – or subliminal manipulation. Now he just outright tells you that it’s all a trick. That doesn’t make it any less impressive.

And throughout the show, this same trick is redressed in a variety of ways; most effectively as a mock exhibition of mediumship. A procession of dead souls invisibly drift on stage, revealing details to their relatives that no one could ever guess. Just when you’re convinced that Brown is actually in contact with Grandpa Derek or Uncle Bob, he tells you that he isn’t. He tells you it’s all faked.

In the hands of a lesser magician, this would puncture the atmosphere as effectively as pulling a dead bunny from a hat, but Brown has the deft technique of a virtuoso. A gifted performer (in an earlier life he was the author of at least two out of print books all about stage-craft) he’s able to create and modulate mood in the room with the barest of set dressing and few other frills. It’s the most stripped down of Brown’s shows we’ve seen – with the occasional presence of a live camera projecting stage shenanigans the most technical concession.

There are sections where it’s needed – because it’s not all mind reading and memory tricks on the night. There’s some close-up card magic, squirty blood and a bit of precision rice picking. There’s also some freaky shit with a pair of Rubik’s Cubes. But to find out exactly what, you’ll have to go see him.

Find out more:
Derren Brown’s Infamous tour dates