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Derren Brown: Secret  - Elizabeth Ahlfors

Derren Brown: Secret
Derren Brown: Secret.  Photo Matthew Murray

Derren Brown: Secret

Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street
Preview: Sept. 06, 2019. Opening: Sep 15, 2019, Closing: Jan 04, 2020
Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Playwright: Derren Brown, Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor
Directed by: Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor.

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

How did he do that? You may keep asking yourself that throughout Derren Brown’s surprising and entertaining show at the Cort Theatre. A popular performer in the UK, you can define him as a mentalist or magician, psychological manipulator or illusionist, but by the end, Brown’s showmanship will have captured your imagination and sent the two and a half hours sailing by with dazzling swiftness.

As for the “Secret” in the title, Derren Brown Secret, I’ll never tell, but he will, eventually. The show is a revue of cryptic interactions. At the opening of each show, Brown swears us to secrecy, and while I agree he has an astute connection to human behavior, I was happy to watch and enjoy his interactions with the audience. Skeptic or believer, you’ll enjoy the payoffs, delivered with charm, humor, persuasion and slippery sleights of hand. 

Physical clues are hints for Brown. A woman is given some money to hide in her hand. Can he guess which hand is holding the money? Can he read signals merely by an audience member’s touch on his shoulder? Can he reveal some secret thoughts, like the faithfulness of a partner? “We are all trapped within our own heads.” How many times do you realize that you never saw an unexpected presence pass on the stage? Brown had warned us to watch for it but he hinted we would miss it. He also has his own misses – everyone is human.  

He whizzes Frisbees out into the audience and when someone catches it, he is invited to the stage to join in the upcoming act. One man takes part in projecting a likeness from another audience member’s mind. Is this a plant? Brown rejects the idea of plants in the audience, yet he also stresses that he is not psychic. We believe him on both points.  

An affable and disarming performer, Brown tells us that we all keep secrets. Even he admits he did not come out as a gay man until he was 31. However, since childhood, he was particularly influenced by his grandfather. He admits, “We allow ourselves to be manipulated,” and that is proven true here. The omnipresent center of the show is a box owned by his grandfather, something the elderly man told the boy never to open, and Brown never did. Will he now? Toward the end, he offers to show a film but warns it might be disturbing and some may not want to watch. This leads to a Wow windup with twists, turns, and revelations.  

Brown is a well-known Olivier Award winner in the U.K. and opened off-Broadway two years ago before moving to Broadway. The Cort is designed in spare indigo, with elements of interest by Takeshi Kata, sensitive lighting by Ben Stanton, Jill BC Du Boff’s sound and projections by Caite Hevner.

The stage is set for Derren Brown to prove there is truth in the song, “Fun to Be Fooled.”

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