I've long been a fan of the great magician, mentalist, and "psychological illusionist" Derren Brown. To my knowledge, Brown has done little or no live performance in the US, and so, when I found out his latest live show Enigma was going to be on the West End in London, I added time to the front of my Ireland trip (write up and photos here) to take in his show on July 9th with my friend Sarah Angliss.
Brown has done some really adventurous and fascinating stuff on TV, which really pushes the frontier of what can be done with magic, and how simple (and advanced) techniques can be packaged and presented in highly sophisticated ways, without depending on stooges in on the tricks. Unfortunately, little of his TV work has been available in the states, but you can check out some Youtube excerpts here and here; watch him re-enact the infamous Milgram experiment here; or check out one of his shows that incited quite a bit of controversy. Mr. Brown is also an outspoken skeptic; he even did one great show where he demonstrated a "system" to predict the outcome of horse races which eventually turns into a lesson in skepticism. And so, I brought pretty high expectations with me to Enigma.
Unfortunately, the show lacked any of the real innovation and edginess I had seen so often in Mr. Brown's TV work, but the modern-victorian feel of Enigma was still quite enjoyable for reasons I wouldn't have predicted. While it's long been obvious that Brown is a very smart and charismatic man, I didn't realize that he could carry a show like Enigma simply on the force of his charm and personality. The same mentalism illusions presented by someone less talented would have been deadly. Instead, Brown engaged the audience from the start, and was able to fool us repeatedly without ever reverting to any mystic packaging, insulting our intelligence, or ever coming off less than endearing. (Brown asked the audience not to report details of what he did, so that future patrons could share in the surprise.)
I will say that Brown is an expert in sleight of hand, but none of the illusions in Enigma are (publicly) based on those techniques. And while I won't say any more about it, I do think there's good reason to present this show on an entertainment technology blog.
I hope that Brown will be able bring his work to the states at some point, and gain a well-deserved audience and reputation as large here as he has in the UK. And, while I'm well aware of the obstacles to pulling it off successfully, I would be especially pleased if in future live shows Brown is able to bring to the stage some of the innovation we have seen in his TV work.