Without the dramatic skills and instincts of long-time collaborator Andy Nyman, the question about Derren Brown’s show isn’t whether he will guess the right numbers or tell us exactly what is in the heads of each audience member dragged on stage. We know he can do that. The key question is whether Brown still has the sparkle without his recently-departed creative partner.
Derren Brown in Svengali at the Novello Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
And the answer is a resounding yes - but up to a point. There is no doubting the huge talents of this man, who has managed to take aspects of magic, illusionism, tricks of the hand and confidence techniques and hone them into a mesmerising show for the modern age. But what always gave Brown his added oomph was the sheer sense of theatre and drama.
Here, and without Nyman, Brown invests his creative stock heavily in reveals around numbers, and the numerically dyslexic may not gaze with the same startled wonderment at each coup de theatre as hitherto.
Where this triumphs, though, is in the work Brown conducts (and all reviewers promise no spoilers) around the puppet Svengali, supposedly developed 200 years ago by a grieving father in the image of his dead son. This is essential Derren - adding unease and spookiness to the skill, confidence and wit we know he has in spades.
This show has been around a while and although I wouldn’t call it long in the tooth, I would say his fans will appreciate the arrival of new stage work which I gather is coming. That’s not to say Brown isn’t head and shoulders above the opposition. But we wouldn’t want him getting complacent now, would we?