Next week Derren Brown takes to our stage with his new show Infamous. It’s been picking up great reviews on tour and it seems you’re in for quite an evening: What’s On Stage gave it ★★★★★, calling it an ‘experience you will never forget’.
We’re excited to have this enigmatic performer with us for a week, and were lucky enough to get to know him a little better ahead of his arrival…
Infamous has been very well received by critics and the general public alike. How does criticism, good or bad, affect you when you’re performing?
It doesn’t. The only advice I really listen to is my director in the first instance, my producer, and occasionally my manager or the guys that come on tour with me make a point that I think is worth taking on board. It was clear quickly via Twitter that the show was being well received, and it’s lovely to have that backed up by the press, but aside from the relief that no-one’s complaining about it I don’t think it has any effect on the show.
It’s been well documented that you love touring. What’s the fatal attraction?
Performing the show is a huge delight. It doesn’t matter what sort of day I’ve had, the show picks me up and leaves me buzzing with adrenalin. Normally I’m fairly quiet and perhaps a little isolated, so that in itself is a lovely feeling and provides a healthy balance. But aside from that, I get my days free to read or write and am able to travel round the country with a bunch of friends, all of us knowing we’re putting on a great show every night. I can’t imagine anything nicer.
Are there any downsides to being on the road for six months of the year?
It’s tricky when you’re in a relationship. It’s a common thing with performers – you don’t see your partner for months and then it takes a while, especially for the one who’s been at home, to get used to being back together again. And if big things are going on in your partner’s life and you’re not around to support them, that’s hard too. We’re both very independent and have our own creative things going on, which helps a lot, but we’re going to make more effort next year to see each other on the road.
Will there be a new show for 2015? And any plans to tour abroad?
Hopefully there’ll be a new show, certainly. As for taking it abroad, I’ve no huge drive to, other than to see some countries I otherwise wouldn’t. So I’m in no rush, and currently don’t have the time that would be needed to go abroad and promote it and so on.
Are you pleased with how your latest TV special, The Great Art Robbery, has been received?
Yes, it seemed to go down very well. I wanted to do something less ‘dark’ than Apocalypse, and it felt like I had exhausted the hidden-camera stunt genre. You can’t do much more with an unwitting participant than end the world for him! So this was very different – quieter in some ways but a real pleasure to make.
A lot of people are saying how the recent shows have become warmer and less ‘self-orientated’. Would you agree with this?
I’d hope so. I’m sure some people miss the mind-reading tricks but as I’ve grown up and felt less need to impress, I’ve enjoyed moving into an area where I can shift the spotlight to other people. It’s surely much more interesting watching real people steal a painting than a magician. In the latter case you’re never sure how much to believe or where his abilities are supposed to end, in which case the potential for drama is very limited.
By putting the focus on members of the public and taking a behind-the-scenes role, I can work with clear drama and story-telling. And it doesn’t have to be huge: some old people swiping a painting can hopefully be every bit as compelling as a guy fighting post apocalyptic zombies.
There are still a lot of trickery and illusions on show. Would you say that your magic roots remain as important as ever?
I seem to be in a lucky position now with TV where I can deal with a wide range of subjects. If I had been stuck with only ever being a ‘mentalist’ or magician I’d have lost interest by now. I like to use some of the knowledge I have as a magician and as a person with a keen interest in the fringe areas of psychology and apply them in ways I find more interesting than appearing to read someone’s mind. But then stage is different from TV: it’s more enjoyable for me and a much more natural home for that sort of performance. In fact it’s a huge joy. And it’s theatre, which opens up a new kind of relationship with an audience that doesn’t happen with TV.
I think it’s important in life to do what’s fun, rather than what you feel you ought to be doing, and for me now at 42, that means I have less interest in trying to impress people in real life or on TV with magic tricks, but a greater delight in trying to create these theatre shows. It might be that there’s a different unspoken contract with an audience that know they’ve come to see a show, or perhaps more selfishly it’s the adrenaline of doing it every night. Or more likely it’s a bit of both.
Either way, secular magic – and its related arts – can provide a very special experience and I’m enjoying finding ways that suit me as a grown-up of trying to provide that.
What can we expect next in terms of TV?
Most likely the next TV show will be the televised version of Infamous. Sadly a lot always has to be cut to fit these two-hour-plus shows into about an hour of actual TV time, so the TV version never compares to seeing the shows live. Beyond that, who knows? If people retain interest, then perhaps it’s time to try something very different.
You are also writing another book. Fact or fiction?
I’m taking my time with the current book. And not fiction – I’m not sure if I could write a novel, as I don’t really read them.
What are you reading at the moment?
Schopenhauer quite avidly, while re-reading Anthony Storr’s Solitude and Darrin McMahon’s The Pursuit of Happiness. And when upon the loo, David Thorne’s The Internet is a Playground, which is truly hilarious.
Are there any plans for a new exhibition of your paintings?
Yes, hopefully at Rebecca Hossack’s London gallery late in 2014. I haven’t painted for two years so am hoping to get a chance to start again later this year.
Is there anyone left you greatly admire that you haven’t painted yet?
I moved away from painting famous people, particularly because I now only work from photographs I’ve taken myself, which was a good thing. Now I think I can return to painting known people but bring something more mature to the process.
And finally…you have 1.6 million followers on Twitter but who are you currently following?
Ha – I only follow 60 or so people. It’s a mix: Alain de Botton for my daily aphorisms, a handful of friends who use Twitter very well or make me laugh, and a few liberal intellectual types. More than that I couldn’t keep up with.