Written by Janine Rudin

Arts

Derren Brown: Mentalist. Linguistic Genius. Showman. Healer?

After being unsettled by the live experience, Janine Rudin wants to see if Derren Brown could fuck with her head as much when she’s watching from her sofa.

The thought that counts: Derren Brown's latest TV show takes on faith healing. Photos: Channel 4.

The thought that counts: Derren Brown’s latest TV show takes on faith healing. Photo: Channel 4.

As a performer who likes to shock, Derren Brown’s latest show ticks all the boxes, but Miracle really is something different. Yes, there’s a mind-blowing series of tricks but he really climbs into, and messes with your head as well.

It’s a highly cerebral show with powerful and inspirational messages about self-belief: “There are only two things you can control: your own thoughts and your own actions.” It’s like having a huge group session with a sometimes over-enthusiastic life coach.

After seeing this show live last year, I was keen to see it because it made me feel so very uncomfortable. And as I sit and write this, my head is all over the place again – mainly full of HOW THE FUCK DID HE DO THAT? Which of course is the point.

Split into two halves, the show begins with a fantastic series of audience participation parlour tricks – story games, eating glass and a scary nail-in-a-bag trick which terrifies the absolute crap out of the women he plucked from the audience.

An expert at making it look like the audience is in control, Brown is always the puppetmaster – everything happens because he wants it to.

It is clear that every tiny detail is planned. All that Brown says and does is identical and exquisitely scripted and executed, right down to the clumsy cow accident with the bag – he just has to pull the strings. The man is a genius!

“I am not religious; I don’t believe in healing but something happened. I think I am pretty strong but this left me feeling really vulnerable and gullible.”

By the second half, the audience are warmed up, they like him, they trust him. He is funny, warm, friendly and clever; what’s not to like. So, bring on the healing!

Inspired by his Miracles for Sale documentary, Brown turns on the charisma and flamboyance and becomes an evangelical preacher to heal the audience of their various aches and pains. He is very critical of the ‘power’ of faith healers, and so he sets out to show the audience just how gullible they are.

After some breathing techniques, he asks for people who felt cured to come forward. The line snakes around the theatre.

Now here’s the thing – watching it on TV obviously isn’t as intense as the live show, but when I went last year, I wanted to join that line. I felt taken over, relaxed, euphoric even. I was going through a really difficult time, experiencing a lot of worry and sadness and, feeling that lift, I could have cried.

I am not religious; I don’t believe in healing but something happened. I think I am pretty strong but this left me feeling really vulnerable and gullible.

What also doesn’t come across on the TV is the energy in the room – nervous excitement and adrenaline at the beginning: Will I have to participate? Can I duck the Frisbee? What the fuck is going to happen?

Add to that the audience being told that if we leave the room, we can’t come back in during that half of the show, and ‘please don’t tell anyone what happens during the show’ and he’s got us; we become his accomplices. It’s powerful stuff.

He’s showing us that he’s not a bloody healer, just as the evangelists he filmed aren’t healers. But with clever use of words and body language and by creating the right mood and energy in a room, the feeling of being healed is possible. I teach breathing techniques for birth to ease pain, so I know that breathing and relaxing our muscles can work wonders, but miracles?

I don’t know how he messes with people’s eyesight or how he makes someone fly; I don’t know how he does any of it but there’s no doubt that he’s a brilliant showman; a master manipulator who fucks with your head.

@BirthandBabyCo

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Written by Janine Rudin

Antenatal teacher, postnatal group leader, birth & baby specialist, writer, mother, wife, friend, me. My time is spent with my family, working with parents and trying not to eat all the biscuits. @BirthandBabyCo