It’s just into the second half of Derren Brown’s Svengali in its final run at the Novello Theatre in London’s West End. I’m feeling relieved that mum and I have remained out of sight for the first half and by this point I have convinced mum we’re safe. Our worst nightmare would be to be chosen to go on stage, or in fact having any attention drawn to us at all.
Famously the second half of Derren’s shows are the dark, creepy parts that begin swiftly after the humour and wit of the first half. As the frisbee is thrown out and the next person is chosen I breathe another sigh of relief that it’s not me. Without giving anything away (Derren’s wish from the start) the woman must recall something and head to the stage. Then Derren looks at our row and points to someone. “You sir in the green t-shirt”… I look to my left and there he is on the end of the row. Oh God, either I’ve just dodged a bullet or there’s more. “And the lady next to him”… she’s to my left, oh God no, no OK it’s fine, they’re a couple, he’ll just want a couple…. “and the lady next to her”. Shit. That’s me. He looks straight at me.
“I want you to……. of some…. then I want you to……[blank] …….. okay so……”
Fuck. What do I need to do? Shit shit shit. Panic rises suddenly, my cheeks flush. My heart starts pounding and suddenly the edges of my vision aren’t as crisp as they’re supposed to be. I hardly heard any of what he just said. And he’s continued on, talking to the lady, explaining to the audience what’s about to happen.
I turn to mum. “Mum, what did he say?” She looks baffled that I’m unable to take simple instructions, but she tells me and I do it. I think her relief at avoiding attention is clouding her ability to sense my fear and empathise with me. I duly do what’s asked of me and wait to see what’s going to happen.
It turns out that of all participation within the show mine was the part with the least responsibility so I needn’t have worried, not that I could have known that. My job was done, though I remained on edge for the rest of the second half. For Derren’s sake it’s truly a blessing that he didn’t end up with someone like me on stage.
Despite my world of anxiety the show was highly entertaining as always. The tricks were baffling and some seemed to depend so much on luck (to the outsider at least) that it’s unbelievable they all went as planned. It will be interesting to see where Derren can go with a live show after this tour. I’d prefer to see it go even darker and to push the boundaries even further. I want to be made to feel genuinely scared for some other reason than the prospect of standing in front of a thousand people. In his TV work he diversified quite rapidly after Mind Control, so perhaps a different kind of show altogether is what’s needed to keep up the momentum for the next few years to come. I’ve watched DB on TV and the stage since the beginning 12 years ago and I’m always intrigued by the ideas that are to come.
Next time though I think I’ll have a few swift G&Ts before the show.