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Derren Brown’s Unbelievable

  • Theatre, Comedy
  • Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Derren Brown’s Unbelievable, Criterion Theatre, 2023
Photo: Unbelievable
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Seven actors try to pass themselves off as magicians in this uneven high-concept show from master mentalist Brown

Derren Brown has made himself disappear. His name is all over ‘Unbelievable’ – on the website, the posters, the press releases – but his latest trick is to hand over the limelight to a cast of actors who deliver a mixed-bag musical magic show that he’s co-written and directed, but doesn’t actually appear in.

Instead, the cast of seven plays instruments, does some magic and trots out vague patter about how we’re all actually magicians performing a trick by presenting to the world the person we want to be – polished outsides vs messy insides, Instagram vs reality.

That’s the justification for the show’s biggest illusion, in that none of the seven-strong cast is actually a magician. Instead, along with his regular collaborators Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor, Brown has spilled the secrets of his magic, mentalism, mischief etc to this triply talented cast and left them to it.

It’s an odd assortment. There are prop-heavy tricks that seem to come straight out of My First Magic Kit, there are bizarrely basic takes on old workhorses like the cup and ball trick, and there are Brown’s trademarks, tossing something into the audience to randomise the selection of an audience member, leading to impenetrable moments of mind reading.

There are some knockout moments, too, especially a musical telepathy trick which sees a kind of laying on of hands as 12 audience members touch performer Hannah Price who sits at a piano and somehow plays the songs that are in each of their heads. It’s the show’s high point, not just a baffling trick, but also staged beautifully. In fact it’s a very pretty show all round, with rainbow spotlights, roving cameras and string curtains hanging diaphanously across the stage.

It’s just that the illusion that these performers are magicians doesn’t always hold. They’re brilliant actors. They’re brilliant musicians. They’ve learned to do these tricks brilliantly. The astonishingly versatile Simon Lipkin, who deservedly gets the most stage time, commands proceedings with natural delivery and a sense of authority, and Samuel Creasey has an easy, loveable presence. The rest don’t get much to do, though, and sometimes the cracks in the polish are too evident: nervousness in the execution, slight faltering when things go off-script.

Brown's familiar voice comes through strongly in the text, but what ‘Unbelievable’ really needs is a presence like his on stage; a ringmaster, someone with that overwhelming charisma to make us believe that what we’re seeing really is unbelievable.

You can count on Nyman – who co-wrote most of Brown’s shows, as well as hit West End play ‘Ghost Stories’ – and Brown’s longtime co-director and producer O’Connor to bring integrity and class to an evening of magic. But that’s what’s on the inside and, as the show keeps telling us, when it comes to magic, what matters is not the method, but the effect. 

Written by
Tim Bano

Details

Event website:
unbelievablelive.com
Address:
Criterion Theatre
218-223 Piccadilly
London
W1V 9LB
Transport:
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Price:
£20-£80. Runs 2hr 20min

Dates and times

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