Victoria Lane

Brown study

Brown study
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Stage hypnotists need the trust of their audience, but also a whiff of danger. So Derren Brown calls his show Svengali, though he is not really an evil puppetmaster but a gentle, coaxing, mostly ethical puppetmaster. That show, which opened for its first run at the end of 2010, is back for a short time at the Novello theatre (until 11 August).

It’s fun watching the audience drift through the doors and wondering who will end up on stage dancing naked or eating raw onions or whatnot. A thousand potential victims. There are quite a lot of children given that Derren can be a bit sweary on stage — but one of his special abilities is to deliver the f-word innocuously.

He asks his audiences not to reveal anything, and perhaps he hypnotised us because I’m inclined to obey. The show revolves around a spooky yarn which is a conceit to let him toy with minds in his usual fashion. There are a couple of good coups de théâtre, but the best thing is when he tenderly informs people that they can go to sleep now and their heads droop. It’s adorable.

You might think Derren’s fans, having seen him do his thing with more drama on telly, would be a little underwhelmed, but he holds the audience rapt with a terrifically light showmanship. And where the theatre triumphs over the box, even if you resist his powers of suggestion, is that you get to see around you the confused expressions of people who are (for instance) trying to prise their own fingers apart.

— Victoria Lane