Tag Archives: Andy Nyman

Tricks and Treats

DERREN BROWN: SHOWMAN

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 26th October, 2021

I am presented with the almost impossible task of reviewing a show about which I may reveal no details.  Yes, Derren Brown is back on the road with this latest production of mind-boggling tricks.  I will say he gives us plenty to think about.

You can expect commonplace elements of a magician’s art: playing cards, coins, dice, but Brown uses them in original ways…

Written by Brown, Andrew O’Connor and the mastermind that is Andy Nyman, the show has a through-line on which everything else hangs — but I can’t say what that is. 

If you’ve been to a Derren Brown show before, you’ll know the pains he goes to in order to select participants from the audience at random, or by whittling us down to the willing and most susceptible.  You’ll know a camera operator will stalk the stage, so that close magic is thrown large, projected onto the backdrop so we can all see (and marvel).

You can’t help trying to suss out what he’s doing, how he reads people, their body language, their ‘tells’… But you won’t see what’s coming, no matter how clever you think you are.  Brown is always the cleverest person in the room (unless the aforementioned Mr Nyman is present!).

All in all, the show is intriguing, puzzling, amusing, amazing, surprising, and surprisingly moving.  I well up at one point, even though what’s going on is nothing to do with me.

Brown and his team aim to unite us in a shared experience, and remind us of our common humanity, and yet the man himself comes off as something ‘other’, something apart from the rest of ‘us’, largely because of his special skill set, and that’s rather sad.

But you come away, marvelling at his brilliance, revelling in the thrill of his manipulations, and perhaps just a little more appreciative of what you have and whom you love.

Genius.

*****

The Showman himself, Derren Brown (Photo: Lawrence Hyne)

Phantom Menace

GHOST STORIES

Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 9th January 2020

 

Scary shows are rarely done live, and even more rarely, done successfully.  You think of The Woman in Black which continues to put the willies up audiences in the West End decades after it opened – and that’s about it.  Until the advent of this production at the Lyric Hammersmith, which went on to have a decent run and is now embarking on its first national tour.  Written by Andy Nyman and The League of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson, this is an anthology of tales, curated by Professor Goodman (an excellent Joshua Higgott), who in a kind of lecture or TED talk, seeks to debunk the supernatural.  Because there’s a rational explanation for everything.  Isn’t there?

I am under strict instruction not to reveal any of the show’s secrets so I will skate over the subject matter by saying only this.  Each story is completely different and is narrated by a different character, ranging from Paul Hawkyard’s down-to-earth Tony Matthews, to Gus Gordon’s more agitated Simon Rifkind, and to Richard Sutton’s boorish, braggart, Mike Priddle.

What I will tell you is you are in for ninety minutes of suspense, shocks and scares.  I saw the original production at the Lyric; there are more laughs than I remember, some of them the nervous kind, but the script is richly laced with humour, calculated to relieve the tension.  It’s beautifully written; the stories unfold in such a way that they play on your imagination, and the staging of each one is exquisite.  Everyday activities take on an aspect of suspense.  The ordinary is a gateway to the extraordinary…

Technically the show is a marvel of darkness (James Farncombe’s lighting design excels in what it doesn’t reveal as much as what it illuminates) with an unsettling sound design by Nick Manning.  There are jump-scares, sudden loud noises, eerie silences… every trope you might expect, and an almost relentless sense of dread.  You spend a lot of the time dreading what might happen and when things happen, wondering how they do it.  Everything is achieved with impeccable timing and it works brilliantly.

Even on second viewing, the show loses none of its power to grip, to thrill and to entertain.  It’s a funfair ride, a visceral and intellectual experience, addressing dark aspects of the human psyche.  It’s a pleasure to be manipulated in this way. The show is a testament to the power and unique properties of live theatre.  You won’t get frissons like this by watching the movie version on your phone.

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