Review: Derren Brown, Sunderland Empire, until May 30

Derren Brown, master of mental manipulation
Derren Brown, master of mental manipulation

“How does he do it?” - a head-scratcher that runs through your mind constantly when watching Derren Brown.

The master of mental manipulation had the Empire in the palm of his hand for latest show, Miracle.

As part of the act, he asks you not to reveal the contents of the evening, which puts the humble reviewer in a bit of a pickle. The first rule of Miracle is, don’t talk about Miracle. But if there was no shroud of mystery, there’d be no show.

What I can tell you is that he makes for an utterly captivating showman. Though I’ve seen many blockbuster musicals at the Empire, one waistcoat-clad chap in an oppressive Victorian-esque room that narrows into the distance proved most compelling of all.

Brown may be more known for his TV shows, but it’s in the live arena of theatre where you can really appreciate this ringmaster of cerebral skills.

The audience, of course, are key to the show and Brown is remarkably adept at gauging who he can gently toy with. People, it seems, are like books: some are easier to read than others and he uses many members of the audience - they can’t possibly be stooges - as the foils for his stunts.

Though the overall sweep of the show is scripted, Brown appears to react to the ebb and flow of the audience, picking up on what lines have elicited the response he wanted, and which ones haven’t. He plays an audience like a finely-tuned violin.

And you don’t have to be sat in the Empire to join in, each night he takes to Twitter to request words which are weaved into the show. His psychological illusion can even infiltrate the Twittersphere, it seems.

Miracle has a philosophical strand too and, delivered by this great orator, you can’t help but feel a little lighter by sloughing off your worries in his presence, no matter how cynical you may be.

The second act focuses on evangelical healing and nifty graphics flash up images of loud-mouthed Americans gesticulating wildly about their ‘powers.’

Brown debunks it in glorious fashion. But though he exposes its sham, you do genuinely feel uplifted by it all. It’s a mind-bending dichotomy.

I’d love to tell you how he does it, but not knowing is all part of the fun.