Derren brown: an evening of wonders, Garrick Theatre, London

Julian Hall
Monday 26 May 2008 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


There is a rising sense of infuriation during Derren Brown's show that comes from trying to work out how you are being hoodwinked; it's only abated by the sense of awe when you are. You can at least discount magic. Brown is a sceptic and debunks hokum and spiritualism at every opportunity. It's a pity, he says tonight, that charlatan mediums aren't imprisoned like they were in the Victorian age.

It's not merely in thought that Brown harks back to Victorian values. His set gives off the vibe of a Victorian boudoir and he's the successful seducer of an audience that he knows want to believe. So we believe that we have seen him guess the objects that six people are asked to write down but keep to themselves, or that he has guessed that the lady in the circle wonders when she will live in Greece again, simply from her handwriting on a sealed envelope containing that very question.

Always brisk, never brusque, Brown hurtles over impressive illusionist hurdles and rattles through the requisite amount of prefacing that inevitably comes with each set-up and which can kill a magic show in the wrong hands. His businesslike demeanour doesn't impede some nice, dry, flashes of wit, and occasionally he will be more playful; he puts his hand on the stomach of one of his pregnant volunteers for a card trick and guesses "boy".

The audience later watches Brown get serious as he recreates "table-turning", the Victorian ouija-style diversion for which Brown's stage is set. A woman is amazed as she sees the table rotate and levitate without her forcing it, apparently achieved by channelling energy elicited from the memory of a dead relative or friend. That sounds like classic spiritualism but as it is a historic recreation Brown is allowed to steal the clothes of his showman predecessors.

After the show the discussions about methods inevitably start. Some don't want to know how it's done, lest their enjoyment be spoilt. Others, in trying to piece it together, can't help but admire the technique even more when methods seem to become more obvious. Whatever the thinking is, when the curtain comes down the audience's immediate reaction is to rise from their seats. On this occasion Brown has not forced them to act against their will.

To 7 June (0844 412 4662)

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