Interview with Derren Brown

Derren Brown is a legend in his field. Not a magician nor a wizard, he brings a totally new form of performance to the stage and it’s captivated people all over the world.

I was lucky enough to get access to a syndicated interview with the man himself…

It’s fair to say that Secret, your current Broadway show, has gone down very well with New York audiences. Given Broadway’s fearsome reputation, what were your thoughts embarking on this journey and how would you sum up your present feelings?

My main concern was finding a nice breakfast spot close to the apartment. That was taking up my time. Getting the mornings right is a big thing for me, and having a place to write. Beyond that, there were the expected grown-up production things about investment and ticket sales which I leave to others where I can. The show was already solid and felt fully in my blood, so I wasn’t worried about that.

Your last show in the UK, Underground, was the inspiration for Secret, which first enjoyed an award-winning run off-Broadway. Did you have to change much for the Cort Theatre production? 

Underground was the UK cousin of the show – a different physical production of the same material. I started it in the UK in a small theatre to warm up for off-broadway, and ended up touring it as a ‘best of’ show in its own right. We’ve changed a few bits for the current version in NYC, and flipped a couple of big pieces in the second half, but it’s essentially the same show. 

Given your shows all revolve around audience participation, how would you compare British audiences to their US counterparts? 

Americans are far more relaxed and talkative on stage. There’s a bit when I ask a person on stage to tell us about a grandparent. Brits mumble something about them being nice and kind – here they take the mic, turn to the audience and give us a tight fifteen. As an audience, they are much more vocal, narrating their own experiences more. There’s a lot more ‘NOOOO!!’ And ‘FUUUUUUCK!!’s from the crowd. On the other hand, half of the audience here is classic Broadway, and noticeably older. At home I might spot two older couples in the audience, here about a quarter of the audience consists of pensioners. But the rest of them are young and vibrant and contain many fans that have, amazingly, flown in from around the world. So it’s a diverse group, and part of the fun is feeling them all come together as the show goes on. And lots of actors – famous and otherwise – come to see the show. That’s a real Broadway thing too. 

The show’s themes have resonated strongly with the critics and public alike. Is it important for you to have an authentic connection with audiences, given that what you’re demonstrating through your skills, could be termed ‘unreal’?  

Completely – I think that’s the whole point. Otherwise you’re just showing off. For me it only gets truly interesting once you step outside of the tricks. And a principal challenge of writing the show is to make the unreal and dishonest sit honestly and fairly in a world of truth. 

When Showman embarks on its UK tour from March 2020, it will be your first brand new stage show in five years. Is your joy of touring still as strong as ever?

Yes, it’s been a while. I hope so – I’ve been spoilt with not having to work on a brand new show, which is certainly stressful for the first couple of weeks in previews. I’ll find out. I try to write shows with Andy (Nyman) and Andrew (O’Connor) that are going to be huge fun to do, so it’s a built-in reward for me each night. And I’ll get to have a new touring crew which is fun as well. I’m looking forward to it, though it’s a quick turnaround in between finishing this one, then writing and rehearsing Showman. Once I’m on the road though, writing in the days and visiting old haunts, it’ll be utterly wonderful.

Catch Darren Brown: Showman at Leeds Grand Theatre from 26th to 30th May 2020.

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