The first rule of Derren Brown: Secret is you need to keep it secret. Magician and mentalist Brown is making his American debut, Off-Broadway, with a show that operates, in part, as an introduction to an audience who may not be familiar with his particular set of skills.
Through a series of “mind-reading” gambits he showcases his apparent powers of psychological manipulation while carefully earning the audience’s trust. He demonstrates his capabilities; he promises he will lie to us – and does exactly what he promises. We might think we’ve made choices freely throughout, but it’s clear from the dazzling outcome that everything here has been carefully constructed by Brown.
The show – co-written and co-directed by regular collaborator Andy Nyman – develops almost exclusively from interactions with various agog audience members. Brown paints a portrait of the celebrity that someone is thinking of; he unlocks the mystery of a box that belonged to his grandfather with the help of someone who speaks of her connection to her own grandmother. He dabbles in magic and misdirection then escalates to ‘mind-reading’ by drawing out secrets that people have submitted in sealed envelopes.
Though he repeatedly speaks about the human need for narrative, Secret eschews any arc. Brown awes us repeatedly but over the long running time this results in a sense of sameness. Astonishment fatigue can and does set in before we reach the impressive musical denouement.
Amplifying the sense of the mystical, the brick-walled, arched-windowed church space of the theatre is repeated in the scenic design. Moody lighting and eerie sound build tension as we await confirmation of what Brown already seems to know about all of us.