Derren Brown: Secret
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Broadway review by Adam Feldman
The British mentalist Derren Brown is up to his old tricks in Secret, and very fine tricks they are. Not for nothing has Brown become a celebrity in his native England: He is a first-class stage magician, and in his Broadway debut he commands our fascination for nearly two and a half hours. Deploying a mixture of techniques (cold reading, subtle psychological manipulation, even mass mesmerism), he repeatedly gets members of the audience to seem to do his bidding. But although much of his act looks like mind reading, he renounces any claim to psychic ability—cannily disarming us of our skepticism, the better to catch us off guard. With help from directors Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor, he misdirects us in plain sight.
The secret of Secret’s success lies not in the big-reveal tentpoles of the act (which are highly skillful variations on standard mentalist routines) but in the partly improvised patter that cloaks them in genuine risk and spontaneity. When things don’t go perfectly smoothly—when the good-natured and self-assured Brown bobbles a prediction or two—the hitches only add to the tension and impressiveness of what he is doing, as when a juggler’s dropped ball reminds you how many are still in the air. The show leaves you in a state of joyful bafflement. Can you believe it? You don’t have to, and that’s the fun. It’s a con game, and Brown is a consummate pro.
Cort Theatre (Broadway). By Andy Nyman, Derren Brown and Andrew O’Connor. Directed by O’Connor and Nyman. With Brown. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission.