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Review: Derren Brown Showman (Apollo Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale (I think)

Following an extensive 155 date UK tour, Derren Brown has brought his latest stage production Showman to the West End for a three month run. As someone who has always been the most casual viewer of his TV shows, I wasn’t sure how his act would fare on stage, but this one piqued my interest so I went along to see what all the fuss was about (I had heard a buzz from the tour dates) but the question is – would he send me to sleep?

And now for a disclaimer – and this is a a bit of a weird one…

I’m not actually allowed to talk about the show itself.

At the end of the show, Derren explicitly stated the audience must keep the contents of the show a secret so as to not spoil it for future audiences. He then added a message to the reviewers in the house that it applies to them too.

So that’s the end of my review. Thanks for reading, everybody.

Obviously I’m still going to talk about the show itself but the contents of it are going to have to remain a mystery. I always try to make my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but for this one it might be even more vague than usual. There is still no shortage of things I have to say about this unexpected show though so take a deep breath and relax. Let’s just hope I don’t forget anything.

If you are not aware, Derren Brown is an illusionist and mentalist who came to prominence in 2000 with his TV show Mind Control. He became a regular fixture on television with shows Trick Of The Mind and his high publicity and often shocking TV specials including Russian Roulette, Messiah and Apocalypse (some of which still haunt my nightmares). He simultaneously brought his show to the stage, consistently performing in the West End (where he won two Olivier awards for his trouble) as well as on Broadway.

Showman is described as Derrens most personal show to date – I can’t go into the reason why but that is a very apt description. When you realise what is going on and the purpose of the show, it adds a sense of depth you perhaps might not have been expected which can elicit a surprisingly emotional response. Thinking back to moments of the show and realising their true purpose adds to the gravitas of it all and is a testament to how cleverly put together and how multifaceted the whole show is.

Without the limitations of a television screen, Derren is beautifully able to connect with a live audience without restriction. While the show has been very carefully crafted, it allows for Derren to brilliantly ad-lib depending on what the audience members do. Even when he is sticking to the script, it feels refreshingly spontaneous, coming across as effortless and natural. It is in these interactions with members of the audience, chosen completely at random (sceptics be damned) where he truly shines. While on TV, Derren may have an air of mystery around him, he is much warmer in person, beautifully opening up about his own experiences and sharing them with those around him in a way that is impossible not to love. In this show, Derren Brown proves he is the ultimate showman. Cool, calm, charismatic, clever, captivating and commanding – just about every C word you can think of (well, maybe not THAT one).

Taking Showman as an actual show, it is incredibly well executed. Written by Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor (who also direct) alongside Derren Brown, this is an unexpectedly intricate production that features a fantastic use of lighting (no spoilers) from Charlie Morgan Jones and sound design from Colin Pink with even a bit of a musical moment at some undisclosed moment. Following in the giant footsteps of Jerusalem which really concluded its critically acclaimed run at the Apollo theatre is no mean feat but Showman does this with ease.

This is a deeply intelligent show which doesn’t resort to cheap tricks as a way to fool the audience, instead leaves you with a sense of wonder – one moment in particular had me extremely confused about what I had just seen (or more appropriately DIDN’T see) and was still talking about it more than an hour after I had left the theatre. That is what you want from any show surely. Showman lingers on your mind, becoming increasingly more satisfying as you think back to how certain elements of the show were carried out. Whether you can believe in the magic of it all or not is irrelevant – there has to surely be a common appreciation for HOW this is all carried out, expertly and flawlessly. Rather admirably as well, Derren issues trigger warnings at several points throughout the show – at one time alluding to what is about to happen so anybody who doesn’t want to take part can step out for a moment.

While Showman in itself is a very good show, it is the extra elements that go alongside the action on stage that elevates it to God-tier status. It is very difficult to elaborate on why without giving the game away, but the reason why this show was put together and the various bits that lead up to that reveal are what makes this more than your average show. Its themes are immensely thought-provoking and, to my huge surprise, incredibly life-affirming. This isn’t your average “magic” show – this is something else entirely, and for that Derren and the entire team involved should be commended.

It is safe to say Showman was not the show I expected. While I was looking forward to a night of entertainment, I was not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster and sheer awe I felt watching this. If theatre at its best has the ability to make you feel immeasurably, this production is the perfect example of that – simultaneously tugging at your heartstrings and making you cherish the things you perhaps take for granted while suspending your disbelief and losing yourself in the sometimes unbelievable things you are witnessing on the stage.

Derren Brown’s Showman is theatre at its best - It really does need to be seen to be believed. After a year where I have been lucky enough to see some truly phenomenal shows in the theatre, this may well be one of the best I have seen. While the contents of the show itself need to remain a secret, Derren Browns talent and ability to command an audience are no secret whatsoever. The title of this show is pretty accurate as it became clear to me after watching that Derren Brown really is the greatest showman.


Derren Brown Showman plays at the Apollo Theatre until 18th March 2023. Tickets available here.



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