SENSE ABOUT SCIENCE
… is a much-needed organisation dedicated to balancing pseudo-science spread in much of the media, with proper facts about food, health and things that matter. Seeing as scare stories spread so well due to their media-friendliness, the scientific community has long needed a voice that would also work with the media rather than shy away from it.
Their latest announcement:
A quick note to give you the advance on our publication “I’ve got nothing to lose by trying it”, a guide to weighing up claims about cures and treatments for long-term conditions. Online ads and chat-room conversations testify to the ‘incredible’ benefits of new medicines and treatments selling the empty promise of curing the incurable. The guide is being published by Sense About Science, with the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Alzheimer’s Society and Parkinson’s Disease Society, and explains how to tell the beneficial from the bogus in the face of the miracle cure stories, new wonder-drugs and breakthrough therapies that are increasingly promoted.
Please look out for it in most newspapers and news programmes from Monday. You will be able to download a free copy from www.senseaboutscience.org from 0001 hrs Monday.
This is an excellent resource: spread the word.
An update on what I’m up to at the moment.
I’m filming a few documentaries that should air next Spring, which concern me spending time with individuals involved with some aspect of what could loosely be described as the paranormal, or who are making extraordinary claims. Despite my scepticism, I am not going in with an aggressive or de-bunking mindset, and am open to the evidence and would personally love to be befuddled and unable to explain away what I come across. True, honest scepticism involves an openness to fresh evidence (as opposed to cynicism which is a closed-minded rejection from the start), and I would hope that this non-aggressive (but still rigorous) approach will set the tone for the films. We are aiming to make three documentaries for now: I have made one already in the States concerning ghosts, which I found quite fascinating, and will let you have more details nearer the time.
Meanwhile, I’m also filming a brand new series which will air next September or so. This will most likely be four one-hours, each based around a particular stunt, and probably with live elements. After the mini-dramas of Trick or Treat, I’d like to return to my roots and do something based around performance, tapping into the old publicity-driven stunts of the magicians and mind-readers of yesteryear. They should be fun. We’ve filmed a few bits and pieces for the series, and hope to embrace my iPhone blog-technology and post you pictures and thoughts live from filming. How exciting; hold on to your knick-knocks.
Christmas this year, however, will bring you the televised version of the Evening of Wonders stage show with which I toured this and last year. Like Something Wicked This Way Comes, it has been chopped down to an hour and a half or so, but a future DVD will contain the bits removed. This rather lovely new DVD is in the pipeline for soon-ish after Christmas, I think. And of course you’re aware of the fact that four of the Specials (Heist/Seance/Russian Roulette/System) are coming out in a DVD box-set as I type and are also available on Amazon. Apologies to those of you who would have preferred Messiah over any of those included: I had to make the choice and it’s been eating me up ever since.
I am also thinking about the NEXT stage show, which will be touring Spring 2009 and hopefully (if we can get a theatre) coming into the West End straight after. I understand the tickets are already selling: which is strange, as I have no real idea yet what the show will consist of. But that’s how it is every time a new show comes around – all the real work happens in a wonderful two-month period before opening night.
Book-wise, there are two projects underway. If your wardrobe needs propping up less than an inch or so, then I’d point you respectfully to a large-format book of my portraits which should be in the shops (probably next to the toilet wipes) next April or so. I believe it can be pre-ordered on Amazon here.
If, however, you have lost a wheel from the base of your sofa and are looking for much thicker support, then grab your eyes and roll them both towards the book which I have just begun writing. This one is due out much later I’m afraid: hopefully the Christmas of next year. Start saving now – just thirty or forty pounds a day is all you’ll need to put by. I’ve only written twenty pages, but will post more once I get a better sense of how to describe it. Meanwhile please lobby Starbucks on my behalf to get proper Wifi, instead of the insulting T-mobile hotspot idiocy, and I’ll get it written sooner.
You will be aware of some online activity I also seem to be getting engaged in. Some very kind people are working on some new web-sites for me, and hopefully they will be properly live soon. This blog is the first (and simplest) of three projects: there will also be a site dedicated to the artwork (some of the brightest and kindest of you will have realised that there is a curious ‘derrenbrownart’ mentioned in the URL of this blog: that shall indeed be its place.) And finally, there shall be a brand-spanking-new personal site to replace both the flash and HTML sites that have lingered largely untouched on the net for some time now. The guys at namelessuk created a sensational and award-winning flash site for me some years ago, which still lives; but time has moved on and a fresher, more straightforward, funkier doo-dah is now needed. I hope you like the result: this blog will become part of it once the main site is up and running and skipping and dancing.
I think that’s all. I need breakfast.
THE SCHOOL OF LIFE
Alain de Botton is a favourite author of mine, and in August 2008 he set up, along with other artists and thinkers, the School of Life: ‘a new cultural enterprise based in central London offering intelligent instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life.’
It’s still a new project, and therefore exciting to see how this brave and fun concept will take off. But anyone who has read Alain’s books or watched his films will be hooked.
For those who don’t know him, his writing covers a variety of genres (travel, architecture, fiction), but there is a common thread of living the examined life, and applying philosophy to important everyday concerns. ‘Essays in Love’ and ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ are great starting points. View his work here, and look out for the very charming and lesser-known DVDs.
As part of researching ideas for guests on an upcoming series, I came across this, which I thought you might like.
Forgive these rather brief posts, but as my longer one below hopefully makes clear, I’m up to my evil eyes in it. I will post at more length when I can.
MAGIC AND NEUROSCIENCE
More end-of-series-writing-day and pre-start-of-book-writing-evening thoughts.
Some of you may have seen this article, it’s not new, but one of the few serious scientific appraisals of conjuring. A few friends are behind it – Teller is one of the most gracious people you might ever meet, John Thompson has a similar reputation, and Apollo Robbins is the king of pick-pocketing and a lovely guy. Richard Wiseman and Peter Lamont have written about magic in this context, and Richard Gregory has written one essay that I’m aware of – if anyone knows of any other serious work by psychologists on the subject, please post a comment.
Once in New York, I filled a morning by visiting an old fashioned barber’s shop (not a properly old-fashioned one, though: this had a bad eighties’ feel to it and those hysterical turquoise shots in the window of guys with perms and aviator specs) and get my face shaved. I had never undergone such treatment before: it was unnerving, pleasant, painful, relaxing and frightening all at once and at different times. But it is rather nice to know that someone has shaved you. Back in London, I decided to repeat the procedure, and visited a place near my apartment. This time it was unambiguously horrendous, and the most pain I have experienced at the hands of an older man. I was left raw, stinging and absolutely hopping mad, with spots of blood coming up all over my neck. Never again, I thought, furiously leaving a tip.
A few weeks later, and disappointed that my latest effete pursuit was to be curtailed, I got into discussion with the staff at GF Trumpers of Jermyn St, (I didn’t know the original Curzon St branch at the time) which is a quite excellent place for securing all things gentlemanly. Soon they had me convinced that they could do a better job, and after one initially very nervous session, I emerged ever the smoothest, creamiest, most trimmed and talcumed young psychological illusionist to ever read a mind or influence a behaviour.
On alternate Saturdays I would return to Trumpers and receive the hot-towels and cut-throat safely and precisely. Now that I am no longer a single man and cannot pre-book half of all my Saturday afternoons to be spent in this ludicrous way, I have forgone the luxury of a professional touch and shave at home. Too nervous to use a cut-throat, I use the more pedestrian Gillette Fusion Power razor, which plays less darkly upon the imagination. I am, as you will guess, a shaving enthusiast, and I thought that you could all do a lot worse than pay attention to my shaving tips, because I have met some of you, and frankly most of you need it. I realise this may be of less interest to my lady-fans, but, again, I have stood quite close to many of you after shows, and some of those hirsute upper-lips could stand a little pruning.
So, for those who struggle with their morning toilet, my thoughts are as follows. As ever, recommendations and thoughts appreciated. I am indebted to the various barbers at Trumpers and the long discussions we have had while I was in the chair.
1. Preparation is all. Exfoliate in the shower, and do so every day if you can.
2. Do not use any shaving oils: they will clog up your razor. The idea is to first open your pores, (which is what the hot towels will do if you visit a professional), so avoid anything cloggy. Trumpers sell a ‘skin food’, which is essentially glycerine and one of various pleasant scents, and this nicely and lightly prepares the skin for the razor without recourse to oils.
3. Next, lather up. You should use soap in a bowl and a proper brush, for this is where the joy of the whole experience resides. If you use cream or gel from a commercial can, you should still use a brush to apply it. This is because you wish to lift the hairs from the face: smoothing your hand down your cheeks and chin has the opposite effect. A hand-made badger brush will not moult like a machined one, and the best have firmer hairs inside which help the lather build quicker. Brush the lather in little circles around your quite exceptional face, lifting those pesky hairs, and then, if you have time, rub it all in with your fingers and start again with the soap that is still on the brush.
4. Hair-raised, you can pick up your razor. I use the Fusion Power, but have no idea if the buzzing function really makes any difference. I am somewhat committed to it, as I found a fancy one that has a little light on it, which I just love. Others complain that the 5-bladed Fusion brand clogs up too easily, and swear by the old Mach III. They may be right. I have shelves of faux bone-handled and chrome razors, for every brand of blade, most far more beautiful than the light-up gizmo, and would love a tortoiseshell handle for the Fusion Power… you know where to post a comment if you’ve come across anything nice.
Some people have hugely sensitive skin, and no amount of care seems to stop the old rashes and in-grown hairs. A dermatologist I spoke to explained that the trouble with the multi-bladed razors is that they can pull out and cut the hair so closely to the skin that if you are one of a small percentage of people to have stubble that grows at a shallower angle to the skin rather than straight out, the pull-and-snip action can actually make the hair grow again underneath the skin. So – and this advice has been invaluable to a couple of friends – the answer is to eschew these modern razors and stick to an old-fashioned top-loading single blade model. There you have it. It won’t be quite as close, but it will be close enough and might stop the in-growing if you can’t seem to stop it after taking on board all my handy hints.
Meanwhile, when I pluck up courage to use a cut-throat, I’ll let you know.
5. Start shaving. Stretch the skin where you can, and shave slowly: they shave too fast and casually in the adverts and it’s a bad example. Keep the blades rinsed, and go slowly and carefully. Above all, SHAVE WITH, NOT AGAINST, THE GRAIN. This is a very common mistake. It will feel closer if you go against the grain, but you’ll end up with ingrown hairs all over the place. Always with the grain. For most people, that will be DOWN the cheeks and UP the neck to meet under the jaw, but we all have our personal hair-grain maps. Be aware of any areas you tend to find rashes: usually this is where you’ve been shaving the wrong way.
You should be changing your blades every four shaves at the very most, but with the current economic climate and the cost of Fusion blades, you may have to make compromises.
6. After the shave is complete, PAT your face with a towel, don’t rub.
7. Moisturise your face and neck, and treat any nicks with a styptic pencil or similar product.
8. For a super-silky effect, go for the talc. Yeah, baby.
I don’t use an aftershave balm, as it’s best to minimise the number of products you’re pushing into your face every time you shave. Stick to the same products, and don’t use more than are needed. Avoid shaving every day, (every other day is best). Exfoliation is an important part of the regime, as it’s primarily all about stopping those hairs from growing the wrong way under dead skin or clogged pores.
Those, then, are my top tips. Do with them as you wish, but I can assure you I was raggedy-rashed and spotty before I discovered the pleasures of doing it right. And my life was poorer too, because shaving was a chore rather than a delight. I hope you’ll find your way to enjoying it too. Especially those ladies: you know who you are.
Right, next time it might be perfect egg-poaching.
Heavens, is that the time. Ner-night.
Kuda Bux was a unique performer with an unequalled act of sightless vision. He inspired aspects of the Oracle Act from my latest stage show (which should be on C4 at Christmas), and until recently it’s been very tough to find footage of him.
This is a tricky sort of act to pull off: generally the audience have the option of either believing in it entirely (in which case it’s utterly stupendous), or not believing it (in which case it’s just a puzzle as to how the performer can see). I’d have rather liked there to be a dramatic element here to bridge the two, which there isn’t: it’s just demonstrations of something seemingly impossible. So some will be amazed, others apathetic. But for me it’s a rare treat to see it at all.
God, I love YouTube.
Now, it may surprise you to learn that I am an XFactor fan. In order to watch TV I have to activate a single-button library-to-cinema conversion which is deeply satisfying and something I like to think James Bond would have been proud of had he pursued an academic career; but the combination of dramatic room-transmutation and dumb ignorance of televisual scheduling means that I don’t bother generally. But XFactor has been the exception; I enthusiastically join the ranks of fanatics. But mingled with my guilty love is a small concern, which I want to share with you this freezing, gloriously Rachelless morning.
It is not that I cannot watch the auditions, hysterical as it is to many to watch the deluded and cynically encouraged embarrassing themselves on television and experiencing heartbreak for our entertainment. This is the worst sort of insidious TV cruelty: these poor creatures (and I talk only of the terrible ones) are misled in the early stages to believe they have a chance and then paraded in a grotesque and mesmerising appeal to our nationwide sense of Schadenfreude. Since Big Brother, our young disadvantaged ranks have been offered an image of easy celebrity that is both encouraging and quietly damaging: that you can have everything you want without working for it, and that being outspoken and ill-informed are qualities to be celebrated. Making it on XFactor demands real talent, of course, but in those early stages of encouraging and exploiting self-delusion, I feel the same distaste we feel for spiteful celebrity gossip in Heat. Someone – and it was either Plato or Cyndi Lauper – said that to blame the public for ‘demanding’ so voraciously this kind of nastiness is like building a sweet shop, letting the kids flock to it, and then blaming the kids for demanding the sweet shop when their teeth start to fall out. There’s no kindness in the process, and I think kindness is a very good thing. (I’m aware I sometimes seem to do awful things to people on TV, but we go to great, unseen lengths to make sure the participants are entirely happy and exhilerated by the whole experience).
No, my concern is actually with the voting structure. It’s something of a magic trick, whereby you allow the punter to feel he has a free choice in something you can in fact control yourself from the very start. It works best when the dupe is so emotionally involved in making his own choices that he misses that he has no actual control over the outcome. Now, I don’t like to give magic tricks away, but in the same way that you know a magician will want to have complete control over the trick to ensure the best possible outcome for all concerned, equally a record company behind such a successful TV show want to make sure they have their favourite, most commercial contestant do as well as possible. They’re not going to leave that to chance.
I knew one judge on a previous, unnamed show, who told me she caused a huge fuss by not towing the line and voting the way the judges had been told to that week. For my money, something odd is going on with Eoghan who has, undeservedly, not received a single criticism from any judge all through the series. Austin said in interview that Simon spent the vast majority of his time with the adventurously-haired Irish youth: clearly someone has plans for him.
But I digress. Think about the voting structure, and about the fact that the judges decide each week between the last two. If you wanted to create a show where the public would become so emotionally involved in casting (and paying for) their votes that they missed the fact that they had no actual control over who stays or goes each week, then this would be the perfect structure. It takes a slap round the face to realise how simple it is. The contestants in the final can be pre-decided before the series, based on the voting structure alone.
Then if it were me, just to really speculate, I’d put in place another unquestioned process whereby the phone lines are closed at the moment that the show wishes them to be, rather than after a count-down or some transparent means of ensuring fairness. That way, if results were neck-and-neck, I’d be able to keep push my favourite through right to the winning post.
Thankfully, if any of this goes on, it would be for no more sinister reason that to ensure the most commercial artist wins. And I trust that the non-winners have every chance of getting signed up themselves.
And as you’ll want to know, I have voted twice – once, of course, for Scott when I felt sorry for him, and then later for Diana. I think, now, on reflection, that Alexandra should win, though I love Diana and Ruth enormously. Now I’m happy to sit back and see who Simon has in mind, and I suppose I trust his judgement. What a show. I love it.
XFACTOR PART 2
… For a couple of days filming more for a 4-part series for next September. Here with guest Paul Wilson (Real Hustle) in the 235 Casino looking at ways of scamming. The casino was delightful and extremely helpful, so many thanks to them.
Am currently looking at how to best film a bouncy ball as it bounces around in a glass squash court. Such is my noontime.
Here is a DVD from Richard Dawkins’ site which contains the uncut interview that I and others carried out for his recent programme, ‘Enemies of Reason’. The actual show, and others, are available elsewhere from the site.
Sorry it’s been a while: I’ve been pretty unwell these last few days. Run down after too much work. But, huzzah, I get my week’s holiday next week.
Off for sleeps.
NOT IN RUSSIA
Just in case there’s a terrorist attack on Moscow or I’m spotted in Heat buying fancy Marmite variations and you think I’ve been lying to you. The documemtary was pulled at the very last minute. Thermals packed and everything. Still hoping it might happen at some point, as the school seems a fascinating place.
Have spent a couple of days writing more of the book – this had been put on the back burner a while ago – and am today back into working on ‘The Event’. Even managed to get to the cinema over the weekend, which I haven’t done for a very long time: saw Milk, which was quite extraordinary. Penn must be the greatest screen actor of our generation. You may also be interested to know that I have, as of yesterday, finally watched the classic Star Wars Trilogy: I only ever saw the first one, once, as a kid. Now I feel I understand a whole set of cultural references which had until now eluded me. Finally I get all those Jedi mind-trick jokes. Until now I was faking.
GETTING READY (RE-POSTED AFTER UPDATE)
… For ‘The Event’. The show will consist of a mixture of pre-recorded location pieces and theatre-based bits hanging it all together, and then each one if the four one-hour programmes leads up to a major stunt at the end (which will be done in September when it all goes out). It’s fun and really ambitious (at least compared to what we’re used to. Probably Obama has more on his plate).
Any of you coming to the recordings will be forming a small, on-screen audience for the theatre sections, being taken through the story-so-far and the pieces we’ve already filmed.
And while you have nothing better to do, here are some pictures of Westminster I took in the snow from the office. x
THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD
I haven’t seen this film yet, but am looking forward to it. John Malkovich plays a famous mentalist who, judging from the trailer on the site, is based on The Amazing Kreskin. Kreskin, known to some in the UK but a huge name in Canada and the US, is a favourite mentalist of mine. Probably no mentalist has managed to create such an original and engaging persona, let alone a likeable one; he is so extraordinary to watch, and his choices so rich, bold and clever. If you enjoy the movie, or even if you don’t, there’s a great DVD set of his 1970’s Canadian series available on Amazon.
What does a little touring family do when given a day off between Nottingham and Manchester? What else. That’s me on the far left, in my lame disguise: Coops’ hoodie. The park has come a long way since the Corkscrew was the main attraction: other high octane excitements such as Rita, Nemesis, Air and Oblivion (4 times) gave us just about all the fun we could take. The weather was terrible, so we ate burgers in the rain and wore regulation plastic ponchi.
On several occasions, a ride was delayed with people onboard for maintenance or to remove an individual too fat or inattentive to the arms-inside rule for it to proceed safely, which I found quite fascinating. Here, at the peak of child-like nervous anticipation, were dozens of us, strapped, clunked and clicked into place, bodies and minds prepared for the commencement of our chosen thrill; when that take-off was unexpectedly postponed, we were utterly unprepared, unsure how to respond other than to stare dumbly at the student ride operators, bewildered, as if in a trance, restrained in a kind of chav limbo.
I took the liberty of securing a couple of prizes for a blog competition: some ‘Mindbender’ sweets from the gift shop, and the real treasure: an official fridge magnet showing myself and Mr. Coops aboard the ‘Air’ ride, where I can be seen to be amusingly pretending to smoke a cigarette as we glide pass the camera. Also noticeable in the image, as well in those below, is the make-up work done by our own Jennie before we commenced the rides: she blacked out several of the crew’s teeth so that we’d look injured in our ride photographs. How exciting! I shall post pictures of these superlative prizes when I have photographed them, and suggest a suitable activity for you to attempt, should you so desire, in order to win these rare objects for your good selves.
Right, I’m off to have a hotel massage and do an FHM interview. Please continue to enjoy yourselves.
BREAKFAST WITH THE EMPEROR
I am sat in a Manchester hotel enjoying a late breakfast across from Ian McDiarmid, who is appearing in Be Near Me, in a theatre alongside where our show currently sits at the Lowry. He adapted the play himself from Andrew O’Hagan’s Booker-nominated novel, which follows the relationships of an elderly priest with two unstable teenagers.
Last night he wandered into the back of our show – our theatres are connected and there is a maze of uniform grey corridors to navigate – which delighted our crewmember Iain, the ‘handsome’ fellow many of you have taken a shine to in the crew photos. Iain is a Star Wars aficionado, and took great delight in re-directing the wayward Emperor whilst concealing the small private accident he was having at the time.
Seeing as many of you have asked, here is the full crew list:
Bearded, apparently handsome but I don’t see it myself: Iain. Iain looks after my props, and sets the stage, and is kind of my bitch.
Looks like a heavier-set Bruce Willis (not pictured below): Andy. Andy looks after sound and lighting and all the tech stuff.
Looks like Julianne Moore or Meryl Streep depending on the photo: Jennie. Some of you may know her from a DVD extra that covered the Robbie Williams shoot day. Jen does my make-up and is kind and coconut-scented enough to take care of other lady-like things like doing much of the artwork and sewing the bits of fabric that are involved in the show.
Looks like a cheeky monkey: Mr. Coops.
They also have to build and dissemble the show every night we come in or out, so they’re a very hard-working bunch. It’s a real pleasure to tour and have so much fun with some of my best friends.
There you are.
Machester was lovely: the first night in Salford’s Lowry Theatre complex involved me trying to get up to speed: the combination of a day off and a hotel massage (turned out to be just head and shoulders etc but appreciated nonetheless) left me rather too chilled. The second night I was on better form, an the run there felt pretty good.
Last night we were in a huge barn of a conference centre in Harrogate, a beautiful Yorkshire town that is entirely new to me. It was a tricky room to play, lacked a lot of atmosphere in comparison to previous nights, but all was good. The start was marred by my mic pack dying on me, so Coops had to come out and replace the deficient piece of technology, which involved all sorts of untuckings and inelegancies. Shame, as it kicked the show off with a struggle, and it’s very hard getting the pace and tone back to where it should be if you start off like that.
Am just leaving the delightful Hotel du Vin in Harrogate, sadly having not had the opportunity to visit the famous Betty’s Tea Shop over the road, which I’m sure would appeal to every red-blooded male amongst you.
My throat has been tricky, as I do have a tendency to shout when I don’t need to (on stage at least). Been swigging lots of hot water and all the right things. Seem to be getting better.
Right, off to Blackpool in the drizzle. Nice.
I am sitting in the bar area of a fundamentally depressing Novotel in Wolverhampton which is currently accommodating our little family. The Novotel is the epitome of the invisible hotel: you walk into a bland fug of white corners, cheap nineties’ bright sofas and pine-veneered tables, corporate banners advertising their Brand New Loyalty Programme and a wash of non-music that, if it were any more insipid, would fail to sound at all from the well-hidden ceiling speakers that are set into the uniform white foam tiles above you. The bleak hotel has been built to its soulless template next to an inexpressive roundabout just off a utilitarian dual-carriageway, next to which Wolverhampton itself seems to thrive and bustle with local character, curving charming alleyways and the hum and buzz of life and work. I remember once seeing a photograph of a similar hotel being built, an image which depicted the room units being dropped by a crane as a whole into place: each constituent of accommodation pre-built and inoffensively, mildly decorated; complete with dazzlingly worthless watercolour prints and waterproofed carpet with its practical, forgiving, busy design. All that was left for the staff to do, presumably, was to supply the miniature kettles, and the regulation two-pack of stem ginger biscuits. That and to check that the sheets are not large enough to tuck properly under the mattress, while making sure the duvet can be secured firmly thereunder on all four sides, making it a ludicrous act of strength and courage to get into bed: a process which involves standing and wrenching the quilt from beneath the heavy mattress, thereby bringing the inadequate sheet up and out with it, then continuing the course of action with the end of the bed so that you can at least get in and try to sleep on the flaccid, tangled sheets without feeling like a dog is lying on your feet; then, some time later, fight against your own weight while trying to kick the rest of the bedding free in order to have the breezy pleasure of exposing your legs to the dry cool-ish air being noisily rasped out by the room’s ineffectual air-conditioning.
The bar menu perfectly reflects in appearance the charmless corporate design of the entire hotel. Standing up like a greetings card next to my laptop, it shows a severe close-up of a sea-bass fillet, peppered temptingly and topped with a sprig of thyme; in relief but out of focus, what appears to be the fish skin, and behind that, and now severely blurred and fading into the cream tone of the menu cover itself, some green pieces of what may be bok choi. The word ‘Menu’, or rather, ‘menu’, for please sweet Baby Jesus Christ we should not begin such a word with a capital letter, is turned on its side and runs down the right side of the menu front, and ‘elements’ (small ‘e’) and ‘your choice’ (‘y’ and ‘c’ ) are printed right ways alongside it. What purpose does ‘elements’ serve? I fail to grasp this. I have looked around – the bar has not been given one of those names like ‘Mirage’ or ‘Temptations’, which might explain the inclusion of this odd word into the design – and neither does the menu itself offer separate components of a meal which I might be invited to bring together in my preferred combination that suits my unique tastes and lifestyle options. The word ‘elements’ is simply the nauseating name that someone has decided to give the menu, because ‘menu’, let alone ‘Menu’, just wouldn’t capture the cool, cosmopolitan, contemporary chic of this sophisticated brasserie. And ‘your choice’? My choice? It’s a menu – I need to be told in lower case Myriad Pro Regular that it’s my fucking choice? That’s what a menu is: a list of options. And as it’s been left here for me, I understand that it’s a list of my options.
But despite all this, despite its lacklustre awfulness, despite its charging for wi-fi (an offensive act secured by connecting to a French server which takes five minutes to bring up its page, and then you have to pay ten Euros for a couple of hours – Euros? In Wolverhampton? – hence me typing this into Word to post later when I can have free hotel wi-fi as God intended), despite all this, the redeeming fact is that the staff of the Novotel are utterly delightful. They may work in an exuberantly hateful environment that has been borne out of a profoundly misjudged sense of what people find welcoming, but they are a friendly, helpful and more-than-happy-to-please team of ladies and gentlemen. Last night, which is so rare and so appreciated on tour, Gary the barman kept the kitchen open for us, and we enjoyed a post-show feast of nicely-cooked food before bed. Today, Grace who brings me hot water and honey and lemon to soothe my poor throatingtons is more than happy to go out of her way with my unusual beverage requests for bottles of room-temperature water and extra honey-pots, and they couldn’t be any more delighted to make us feel welcome. And ultimately, this human kindness outweighs all the limitations of the place and depressing choices made by the hotel designer’s penchant for corporate blandness. (And what is that? Do people that work for corporations prefer bland surrounds? Do those people behind the Novotel brand, for example, like this sort of thing? Why does everything excused as ‘corporate’ have to be like this?)
Compare this hotel to the sumptuous, boutique Hotel du Vin, where we stayed in Harrogate. These hotels are delightful: but all of the gorgeously thought-through aspects of this lovely hotel – and the occasional Hotels du Vin are the highlights of the touring calendar and probably the most charming group in the country – were marred by a bar and restaurant staff who were generally tricky, flustered and distracted. This undid so much of the enjoyment of our stay, in the same way that the delightfully warm staff at this very different place in Wolverhampton lift the experience of staying here to being perfectly pleasant.
Simple kindness makes all the difference. An hotel (even ‘a’ hotel, which is similar but not quite as fancy: no spa and you don’t get dressing gowns in your room) can be equipped with all the conveniences to satisfy the fussiest touring mind-reader, but such things are immediately forgotten when the staff are miserable or uninterested. And if hotels are there to accommodate, then this is a very human need they fulfil, and thus we can learn from hotels how to best treat each other: we may be equipped with all the intelligence and wit and talent in the world, but nothing counts for much if we’re not kind. And we may be ugly, gawky, and have horrible-looking menus, but there’s nothing as appealing as being nice to people. Kindness, despite our current fetish with persuasion, goal-setting and getting-what-you-want, will always win over. It is the unfashionable but fundamental human virtue most conducive to personal happiness and a huge, forgotten secret of success.
And the Wolverines do seem very nice. A couple of fun shows and we’re back off to Blackpool.
At last, useable wi-fi has returned. I’m ashamed at how lost I am without it. My Macbook Air, crushed in a Coopie skateboarding-accident after a Nottingham show, has been gasping for action.
First night in Blackpool was great – after Harrogate’s tricky venue it was nice to be in a theatre – the Opera House of the faded, extraordinary Winter Gardens. That first night felt like the best show yet on tour, and afterwards some lovely people at stage door. Thank you Rich, Rob, Mark and Russ.
Wolverhampton’s first audience was hysterical: anyone there will have delighted in the first couple of people who were used in the front row, while I tried to get the first routine underway. One of them sat and grumpily stared at me for most of the show. Brilliant. The second night everyone was a bit more on the ball, and the show was rather good. The second night in Blackpool was lovely – I forgot a few little moments in the first half but the second was great.
We now have – can I hear angels? – a few days off. When I am home with my better connection I shall post some videos of us tired and silly in the Novotel bar.
Ta-ta for now. Phone’s off the hook and I’m switching all the lights off. I’m not in, go away.
LAST NIGHT – OXFORD
Firstly and above all, apologies to those of you who wanted to come and say hello after the show. My few days off were beset by some non-porcine plague, in the way that bodies tend to sieze upon any quiet lull after an extended onslaught of sustained activity in order to punish the bearer severely for working so hard. I dragged myself to last night’s first night in Oxford, found I had to do an interview and photo-shoot for the Times, which I thought, like a ‘nana, was due to happen today, and was then amazed that the first half of the show went well and that I found a voice that seemed strong enough, given that I could barely speak a word during the day. In the second act it suffered, which is worrying: a few coughs and a dip in vocal energy may not matter much to that night’s audience, but without getting a chance to rest, the voice can just suddenly go, leaving us having to cancel a show or two as we did the other year.
So I had to skip signing, under sensible instruction from my company manager. Standing out in the cold talking and chatting is lethal for a damaged, suffering throat, so I hope any of you who were there can understand. A note was left on the door – if any of you have left anything for me to sign, I’ll see to them today, and you can come and grab them later on today – any time after 7.30 – from the stage door. I doubt very much that I’ll be signing tonight either, I’m sorry. If you have books or things – even programmes if you turn up early – that you can drop round to stage door before the show, I’ll sign them straight after and leave them there for you to collect. But I’ll be running straight off for Lemsip and beddy-byes right after the show, so forgive me if I don’t get to scribble my moniker on programmes and tickets bought too close to start time.
Please – anyone leaving anything – remember to put a note in with your full name on!
Now, to cheer us all up, here are some videos of some of the crew at the afore-slagged Novotel in Wolverhampton, when the hour was late and we were all rather tired. Firstly, dancing to ‘Woman in Love’ which playing quietly on the in-ceiling speaker system (so turn up your volumes please), is our own lovely Jennie:
and then, never to be outdone (although he clearly is), is our own ‘handsome’ Iain. One for the ladeez:
I note that Iain’s head looks too big for his body in this film. Rest assured this is his normal appearance, and not a perspectival glitch of the camera’s lens. Hope to be better for Grimsby x
FEELING A LITTLE BETTER
Thank you, Oxford, for bearing with me last night. Feel terrible not being able to sign, but I think it’s working: I seem to be on the mend. Plenty of hot water, lemon and honey, liquorice, whisky, Nurses Day- and Night-, Lansoprazole (for nasty reflux), and a B12 in my arm yesterday afternoon. Getting there. Am now sat in a nice Grismby hotel – yes, they do exist – sipping further lemon/honey blandness with Mr. Coops.
Sorry I missed some of you last night – thank you for the kind wishes sent along with objects to sign. Lemsip appreciated – blackcurrant too, nice move Rob: certainly tastier than the lemon. The Hot Berry and Orange ultimately gets my vote though. Harder to get, but sensational.
A particular thank you to a chap who had flown over from the US to see the show and spoke very nicely to Coops afterwards. Appallingly rude to not be able to say hello in person. I hope the trip was worthwhile.
I eagerly await that moment when you suddenly realise you’re back to full health – and the world bursts with colour once again. As it is, I look forward immensely to the shows even in poor health, as respite from the endless weariness, sweating and coughing. (At least from mine. I can’t do much about yours).
Your well wishes are much appreciated, and thank you again for coming to see these shows where I haven’t been able to thank you personally afterwards.
Think I’ve put on a stone with all this honey.
PORTRAIT BOOK HERE! OMGOMGOMG!!!
Those of you coming to the Grimsby Auditorium tonight will be the first to see the new portrait book, which will be for sale in the foyer. I’m extremely, visibly excited: having painted as a hobby for many years, the idea of having my own published collection is beyond normal elation and makes me feel all warm and wet both inside and out. Whoever gets the first copy tonight, and I do hope it’s one of you bloggers who realises the profundity of his or her action or actions, will be buying the very very first copy ever, and I’m hard pushed to think of anything more feverishly intoxicating than that. Should you do so, be sure to let me know and I shall sign it accordingly and you shall be my special favourite. (I may or may not be at stage door tonight, fingers crossed I will. Best to leave it at stage door with a note before the show to be absolutely safe)
Lucky you lot.
Meanwhile, to cheer up the rest of you not lucky enough to be in Grimsby tonight, here is a brilliant new parody by the excellent team of Peter Serafinowicz and brother James, starring the lully Sarah Alexander. Now I happen to know these people a bit and they really are sensationally wonderful individuals. Have a roam around Pete’s sketches on the site – he is quite incredible.
Well again! New-found health and the spanking Portraits Book made Grimsby a very happy place for me. I like to think that the relief that I felt in finding my voice and energy again, was comparable to the relief felt by the group of girls Coops and Andy found urinating by our van in an open car park during the interval of the first night. Group, mind.
The shows were fine: the room has a tricky quality found in a few venues, where the front row of the audience is sat quite far away from the stage, and then the rows sweep back and back in a huge, high barn of a room. There are no balconies, so the 1300 seats just go back and back. The end result is that on stage, you barely hear any reaction from the audience, which can be a tiny bit demoralising. The lovely people are so far away, and the ceiling so high, that the sound just doesn’t reach me. Anyhow, they were all very polite at the end, cheered and stood in all the right places, so despite the acoustic setbacks, it was nice to know they enjoyed it. Thank you, Grimsbians.
We had dinner after the second show in a truck stop near our hotel. A truck stop! Imagine that. We were looked after royally by the lovely Natalie (and Dawn in the kitchen), and we had bacon and eggs and beans and a sausage and wine: a delicious Shiraz chosen by Coops from the shelves of said truck stop. The rozzers then came in and those of us driving had to decline the wine in case they nicked us. I also took the opportunity to buy myself a ‘fashion hat’, which I’m wearing in the photo Coops took, as well as a 3CD set of Power Ballads for Jennie. That was a fun episode in our fun tour.
We have been beset by other illnesses: Simon, our company manager, has managed to get proper ‘flu’, and today’s news is that Iain may be contracting the same nasty virus. I’m hoping it’s just the flimsy whoopsie-cold that I had and not the serious strain that has beset poor Simon, who has had to be replaced for a few days by a new man, Chris, whom we’re meeting soon. This feels like getting a new step-Dad (Simon Dodson = Dodders = Dadders = Dad, you see), so we hope that we like him. Simon, our real Dad, is quite wonderful.
Please send your fondest well-wishes and heartfelt prayers to our ailing crew. We could all literally die.
AT THE PARROT ZOO
While playing in Grimsby we spent an afternoon in the sensational National Parrot Zoo, in Lincolnshire, of which you’ll already know that your dedicated Blogger is Patron Saint. The Zoo is the largest of its kind in Europe, set to expand even more, and is uniquely dedicated to the welfare and rehabilitation of sick parrots. Alongside that, Steve Nicholls, the Zoo’s profoundly committed owner, is undeniably the country’s most knowlegeable expert on these animals, carrying out extensive research into the much misunderstood beauties. The place is a moving testament to his understanding and knowledge.
Jen and Iain had never been before, and were bowled over. Steve showed me where he’s planted 10,000 willow trees for the new extension across into adjoining fields. It really is a wonderful place and well worth a visit.
They are the most sensational creatures. Steve was telling me that quite a few of them had owners during the war, and have lived through the Blitz, the sounds of which they have stored away for decades. Occasionally, the right sort of noise will trigger one off, and a whole host of sounds will emerge: milkman, morning chatter, then the sound of a bomb dropping. The whistling arc of the descending bomb would then re-awaken the other older birds to their own recorded memories, and soon a whole aviary would be presenting the sounds of the 1940-41 arial attack. Astonishing, and oddly moving, to think of all that history locked away in those little feathered heads.
Here’s one bird who spent a little too long listening to the muffled sound of its owner on the phone in the next room:
And this is just wonderful. Steve was out amongst the aviaries at night and came across a group of Amazons huddled together, all asleep apart from one, who was singing ‘Go To Sleep My Baby’. Presumably this used to be sung to it by his owner. By the time Steve returned with a camera, the bird had moved onto a different song, which we’re having a hard time distinguishing. We’re guessing it’s nothing in particular, if you know it, please tell us, and we’ll send you a little prize as a thank you:
Make sure you visit the zoo and say Hello from me.
The last couple of days began with a lovely welcome by the terrific crew at Sheffield City Hall. It’s a tricky venue, for technical reasons, in which to set up the show, but the excellent and super-friendly staff more than make up for it, and both nights went well. Andy Nyman, who has been filming Black Death in Germany, managed to make it over for the first night to see the show up and running for the first time since previews. And to show us his handsome new filming-beard.
Sheffield did not, however, bring with it any useable wi-fi in the hotel (I’m NOT paying for it, that’s just plain wrong), hence you not hearing from me for a few days.
I meant to post a thank you for all the gifts I’ve been getting – thank you so much, it’s very kind indeed. And for the six of you at Sheffield last night standing at stage door in the driving rain for over half an hour when I’d been told no-one was bothering… apologies and thank you. Hope none of you caught colds.
Tonight we’re in Reading, with our grinning friend and handsome songsmith Stephen Long in the audience. And our very own Phillis will be there too, hiding at the back… see if you can spot her.
SOME MUSICAL LISTENING-ITEMS FOR YOU.
Last night we had ourselves a little party after the show, courtesy of the M&S Party Food aisle here in Reading. (We didn’t actually hold the party in the aisle – is that ambiguous? I just bought the num-nums there). Stephen Long, our brilliant, erstwhile crew-member-turned-singer-songwriter was at the party, all grins and compliments on the show, as was the delightful Joe Sparks, who you may or may not know as an equally talented performer. Those of you with volumes to turn up, enjoy the musical brilliances of our good friends. Stephen has just released an EP, and Joe has been signed by Oli Claw records with an album called Black 26 that launches in July. Please listen and enjoy.
KINDNESS COMPETITION ENTRIES
Thank you all for sending us your entries for the rubbish souvenirs from Alton Towers. Aside from those people who completely misunderstood the basic premise, were several who had done some lovely things. A thank you to the lady who has set up the site allowing people to donate to the Parrot Zoo, that’s very good of you.
I have two personal favourites:
i decided to run the race for life this year after finding out my aunty has cancer.since i dont have the cure, i thought this would be the most kindest warmest thing i could do for her and others alike.hopefully completing this will be a small help.i would like you to give me the keyring now and some mind-benders to help me get over running 3 miles.i wouldnt normally run for anything – and I wasn’t going to do this anyway. i really did enter this in order to try and win.
“I made this cake for my grandmother” – it wasn’t her birthday and she wasn’t ill.
Do I win?
One worthy cause, one simple touching gesture (the cake entry had no proof of baking date, which technically could disqualify it – though I’m happy to let it pass because it looks amazing). But I can’t decide between the two. Let me know your thoughts, and then I might toss a coin if I can’t decide.
Meanwhile, I have just taken a genuine spirit photograph. I know I’ve always been sceptical of such things, claiming that we’re just finding patterns in randomness etc, but I just picked up my drink of Diet Pepsi in the bar of this Northampton hotel, which I had no idea was haunted, to find the face of a ghost appearing in the moisture that had formed beneath the glass. I shall show the picture to the staff, as it may be the face of someone who perhaps worked and was murdered here in a previous century. Alternatively, some of you may think that it is the face of Christ himself, and that I have stumbled across something of enormous religious significance. If this is the case, Northampton should brace itself for annual pilgrimages to mark the day of this miracle. Either way, I’d like to hear those closed-minded Western atheist sciencey-types explain this one:
Right, on with the book. I’m paying fifteen pounds to use wi-fi here! Fifteen! This upsets me.
MR. COOPS' EYEBROW EXTRACTION
I know, 2009, but I found that and thought it was funny. So last night we had a lovely evening. The last week of shows have been terrific – Simon, our tour manager, is back with us in robust health, and his replacement for the week, Chris, was just lovely. Plymouth was delightful, and we headed to the beautiful Barbican area to take Chris out for a farewell lunch. The shows were great fun, as have been the last few nights in Northampton. Bank Holiday Monday brought us a lively, refreshed audience; last night, after the first day back at work, the auditorium was noticeably more tired. It’s fascinating how such things translate into reliable shifts in audience energy.
After the show last night we went over the road and were looked after royally by Victor at Cagney’s restaurant, just over the road from stage door. It’s always massively appreciated when a restaurant opens late for us, and it was a hugely welcoming place in which to to plonk ourselves down, tired and hungry. The steaks, Northamptoners, are rumoured to be the best in town, and I have to say that ours were sensational. Thank you Victor, and nameless lady chef for looking after us so well. Here’s Victor:
and you can see Jennie and Iain inside waving like the fools they are. Please be sure to say hello to Victor if you’re passing, and aside from the steaks, the garlic prawns are definitely worth the journey from wherever you are.
After our meal, we headed back to the hotel, where a momentous event occurred. For some time, Coops has flaunted an eyebrow hair which has grown to massive proportions. The rest of us have tried any number of ruses to pluck it from his head, including rugby-tackles, hypnosis and pornography, but he has been quick to protect it and rendered all attempts useless. Last night, however, a little softened by Victor’s beers and fine Italian food, he agreed to allow Jennie to pluck it from him. I filmed the event and am posting it here for posterity. Best to ignore the background dialogue, which is a confused late-night stream of show-related in-jokes that will make no sense to you. Also, enjoy how Coops looks when he’s drunk.
There you all are. I’m going to have to toss a coin on the race/cake issue. Thank you for your thoughts.
DERREN'S THOUGHTS ON THOSE FIVE FACTS
1. The man you have to initially blame/thank for the unstoppable rise of Derren Brown is Jerry Sadowitz. They first met in a magic shop in London and after swapping tricks soon became pals, with Sadowitz helping Brown get his first lecture gig for magicians and recommending him to production companies.
Very true – Jerry helped Pure Effect get published, hugely supported my early work and then gave my name to Objective (just the one production company) when they were looking for some sort of mind-reader fellow to do a telly show. If it wasn’t for Jerry, I wouldn’t be bothering you at all.
2. Brown claims to be flattered that Kenny Craig, the magic act in Little Britain (you know, ‘look into the eyes, not around the eyes’) might be based on him, considering Kenny to be better looking than himself.
I could never quite understand the link that some others presumed to exist, not being a stage hypnotist myself. I asked Matt Lucas about it and he confirmed it wasn’t based on me. But prior to this I was asked in an interview if I was the inspiration, and I replied, ‘I don’t think so, but I’d be flattered if I was’. Or something. Don’t remember saying anything about either of us being better looking.
3. He studied law and German at Bristol University, where he first took to the stage as ‘Darren V Brown’. V is for Victor.
This is true, but do not be concerned, I was born DERREN, not DARREN. I grew up being called Darren by everyone, even though this was not my born name; hence these early shows were advertised under this admittedly drearier variant. Once I started performing a lot, I reverted to my original Christian name.
4. Fellow magician Andy Nyman has been his working partner for several years, having co-created the likes of Russian Roulette and Seance. You may have seen Nyman being disembowelled and decapitated during Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set, while playing the outspoken telly producer Patrick.
Yup, and as an actor first-and-foremost, recent years have also seen him most memorably in Dead Babies, Severance, and Frank Oz’s brilliant Death at a Funeral. And anyone who caught his extraordinary performance in ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ at the Tricycle Theatre will never forget his relentless energy. He’s a great alter-ego for me: emotive, impulsive and earthy where I’m cerebral, considered and indecisive. We do well together.
5. Although there’s never any question that his helpers on the TV shows are not plants, he often becomes friends with those he has tortured. The guy who loaded the gun in Russian Roulette once accompanied Brown to a screening of Team America to the suspicion of many onlookers.
Some of you found that first sentence ambiguous. Looks like it’s been cleared up. I have never used stooges, never had people just ‘playing along’. It’s an artistic travesty and plain lazy. As for making friends, get this: Iain, the supposedly ‘handsome’ one with us on tour, I met while filming Seance. He’s the guy who goes into the Spirit Cabinet at the end and freaks out. He has longer hair now but that’s him. He was so bowled over by the experience that he started studying magic and suggestion, and what with him being a staggeringly lovely chap, we quickly became very good friends. Now he writes with Andy and me on the TV show, has met the love of his life through filming with us, and is a treasured tour companion.
Some other facts for your delectation:
6. Derren lives with two giraffes. One is a six-foot baby, stuffed in his hallway (it was stillborn, please don’t be upset: all taxidermy owned is humanely secured), and the other is a skeleton of the neck and head of an adult, which spans the wall in his office at home.
7. Derren set fire to a neighbour’s boat when he was nine. His most devastating, gut-wrenching childhood memory. He was playing with matches, along with the neighbour’s son, and managed to set a tarpaulin on fire that was covering a boat that the father was building. Probably the father’s life’s work. The whole lot went up. Christ. He went home, hid himself, and prayed to God to make-it-didn’t-happen.
8. Derren hates mushrooms, parsnips (unless honey-roasted, in which case they’re bearable), mushy peas, and has to sleep in a cold room. If you’d have asked him at age ten what he would grow up to be, he’d have said, ‘A poet, or a vet”.
But please God it will hasten the death knell for this particular organisation, or at least its more revolting aspects. How charming too, that I have to post it under ‘religious matters’…
From The Times
May 29, 2009
But even if the will to make amends by seeking genuine forgiveness now exists — and that has yet to be proven — it may be too late. Another report, out next month, will reveal that the activities of hundreds of paedophile priests in the Dublin diocese were covered up. This may deliver the coup de grace.
The Catholic Church and its institutions in Ireland are now so badly damaged as to be devoid of moral authority. Its only possible salvation lies in prostrating itself before the courts of public opinion and natural justice.
FINEST FOOD ON TOUR
The culinary highlight of last year’s tour was the Eggs Benedict cooked by chef Dan Savage at St Giles’ House, St Giles St, Norwich. This year we were hugely excited to find that Dan was still there, and he crowned each of our mornings with the perfectly poached twin triumphs of the breakfast menu. (Dan has also been delightful enough to cook for us outside of the regular menu hours: a generous gesture for which we’re all massively grateful. Thank you, Dan, again). Here’s Dan:
The restaurant at the really lovely St Giles House has won two AA rosettes and is, I imagine, the finest place to eat in Norwich. Everything we had was sensational; the perfect crab and melon sorbet with candied chilli, or the crayfish and chili risotto on the lunch menu, which I think is the best I’ve had. Be sure to pay it a visit. Thank you also to Jamie and Daniel, Nick the night porter, and the lovely people at reception for looking after us all so royally. And talk about re-charging when tired on tour: outside is a lovely sun-trap of a terrace that has you feel like you’re deep in the Mediterranean:
Whilst we had the day free yesterday, I found myself in another favourite find of the tour: a glorious, secret Victorian plantation garden, created in the mid 1800s by the owner of a ‘Furnishing Establishment’ called Henry Trevor. The garden, is, quite simply, stunning. These photographs do it no justice: there are leafy walkways, a bridge, and a great, grand, Victorian water-feature.
It’s a secret find, but I’ll tell you it’s near the cathedral. And there are two cathedrals. But it’s not far from the hotel and they’ll give you directions. On the way back, we stopped at a lovely second-hand bookstore, the likes of which are getting hard to find nowadays, and, on urgent recommendation had late lunch at the Waffle House right next to the hotel on St. Giles St. Please, please, please, while we’re on the subject of spicy fruits, have the spicy fruit waffle with ice cream and maple syrup. The recommendation came from Chris, our erstwhile temporary company manager, and I pass it onto you.
The shows have been fun, though last night’s second half (second in Norwich), was a little slow, due to matters largely out of my control. Today is a travel day to Newcastle, when it should be a day for lazing in the sun in this lovely eastern city. Oh well. If you could all stay indoors out of respect, we’d appreciate the gesture.
I received details of the debate below from the philosopher Nigel Warburton, with whom I have spent some recent bursts of time. He’s a lovely chap, and his books are well worth reading.
Online, there are some great articles to be found on his blog, virtual philosopher, and some fascinating podcasts on philosophy bites, where he interviews philosophers on a variety of topics. Do have a listen, they are utterly enlightening.
Later in June Nigel is taking part in a debate for the group ‘Discussion with Islam’, proposing that we are better off without religion. Details below.
DEBATE: IS RELIGION A FORCE FOR GOOD OR EVIL?
THURSDAY 18TH JUNE 2009, 6:30PM
Dr Nigel Warburton
Philosophy Lecturer & Author
Hamza Andreas Tzortzis
International Public Speaker &
Researcher for the Hittin Institute
Dr Mark Vernon
Writer, Author & Broadcaster
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
18 Chenies Street, London, WC1E 7PA
Please book your place: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets: £2.00 at the door
According to a recent poll carried out by YouGov nearly half of the British public think that religion is harmful. However more than half also believe in God or “something”.
Many argue that belief in God is irrational and harmful to society, they also maintain that religion fuels hatred, bigotry and war.
Critics on the other hand say that religion produces great good such as charities, dealing with bereavement and that is the only rational basis for morality.
So who is right? Are we better off without religion or should society have more of it?
To discuss this and other related issues join our distinguished panel.
HOMEOPATHY URGENTLY CONDEMNED FOR SERIOUS DISEASES
More important, desperately-needed work from Sense About Science. The groundless, pseudo-scientific claims of homeopathy are now pushing towards creating a possible public heath disaster. For an honest appraisal of homeopathy, and what testing has shown, look here. And for SAS’s excellent PDF entitled I’ve got nothing to lose by trying it – Weighing up claims about cures and treatments for long-term conditions, go here.
Again, we are reminded of the lucid, simple point that a medicine works or it doesn’t. It can’t be shown to not work but somehow still be said to ‘work’ in some ‘alternative’ sense. Here is the press release, sent to me yesterday:
NOW, I DO RATHER LIKE THIS
SIMON SINGH STANDS UP TO LIBEL CLAIMS
I have put my name to a petition that feels that libel laws should not be used to silence discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence. This is following the British Chiropractic Association bringing a libel case against Simon Singh for questioning the evidence relating to their claims. It seems to many people, including your blogger, that the response to this should be open debate and defending of claims, not suing the respected author of an article for highlighting such doubts.
Simon has taken the brave move of appealing the pre-trial ruling, and Sense About Science have joined with him to gather support for the freedom of speech issue that underpins this. It can all be read about here. Simon is quoted as saying:
“It has been a stressful and frustrating twelve months since I published my article on chiropractors and their attempts to treat children with conditions such as asthma. The British Chiropractic Association’s decision to sue me for libel has been an enormous drain on my time and energy. However, the support that I have received from family, friends, readers, bloggers, scientists, journalists and those who care about free speech has been incredible, and it has played a crucial role in my decision to continue defending my article and fighting the libel action.
More importantly, everyone agrees that there is something fundamentally wrong with the English libel laws, which have a chilling effect on journalists, whether they write about science or anything else, whether they live in Britain or anywhere else. Hence, I am delighted that so many individuals and organisations have come together to launch a campaign with Sense About Science to highlight how the English libel laws clash with the right to discuss science in a frank and fair way. The Keep Libel Laws out of Science Campaign will also raise issues related to my particular libel case, and it will encourage a debate on the reform of the English libel system.
The campaign launch revolves around the statement shown below, and I would urge anyone who cares about science or free speech to show support by signing up.
And I would also encourage you to make your friends and colleagues aware of the issues at stake and ask them to sign up. It is possible that the time is right for major libel reform in England, which will then allow scientists and journalists to write with less fear of being intimidated.”
Let’s hope so.
NEARLY THE END…
There you are.
Having had a look at your comments, I was surprised that people thought I had asked for you to signh the Singh thingh. I re-read the post and realised that the quote at the end, from Simon, sounds like a plea from me. I wanted to raise awareness of the case, but please don’t sign anything unless you want to, and also understand and happen to agree with it. And as several of you have pointed out, this isn’t about whether or not chiropractors’ claims stand up, it’s about the appropriateness of libel as a way of silencing disagreement and avoiding debate.
I’m now in Glasgow, for the last venue of the tour. It’s coming to an end. I then get a week for radio interviews, a bit of filming, and some discussions about changing anything in the show, and then we’re into dress runs at the Adelphi. Oh – what’s this?
Now that looks very handsome, doesn’t it? Oh yes it does. Look at those people walking past, all excited about it. They literally cannot believe it! Imagine the faces of their children when they get home and tell them what they’ve seen!
First night in Newcastle was marred by some lights not working right at the end, so you couldn’t quite see what was going on. The audience response to the finale was, understandably, the weakest of the tour. But a fun night nonetheless, and apart from this upset, it was a good show. The following two nights were great – some of the better moments of the tour, in fact. And some lovely people, as ever, hanging around outside, although I didn’t get much signing time. Apologies to anyone disappointed in the fact I had to rush past scribbling so illegibly on programmes, breasts and tickets.
Glasgow was terrific last night: we have a couple of nights here at the Royal Concert Hall, a night off (the show has to be packed away), and then back up again for the final night on Sunday. A lovely city and venue to be finishing in. An exciting last little run and then we’re all getting geared up for the press night in London.
Good Morning x
The 2009 Enigma Tour finished last night with a great night in Glasgow. Aside from one drunken woman who annoyed the audience and performer in the first half, (thankfully she left after security had a chat with her in the interval) the show was a terrific one to end on. I took a photograph of everyone as a memento. Here you all are:
Look at you, all dressed up and out for the evening. That’s what I look at every night, when the house lights come up. Bless any of you who think I can hit a stooge with a frisbee when it’s pitch black too.
Thank you to everyone who came along to see the touring show. Thank you to those who travelled; who spent ludicrous amounts on ebay tickets or more than they could justify on the regular ones; who came as birthday treats; who queued in the cold or rain; who brought sweet and touching gifts. We all enjoyed this tour more than any other, and are very excited to be bringing it to town. I only managed to get about twenty pages of the new book written, which brings me up to nearly a hundred, but I shall persevere during my days in London.
A final thank you to the excellent bar staff of the Radisson SAS in Glasgow for looking after us so well: Ash, Mirka, the glorious Rebecca and others.
Please keep the secrets secret and the surprises surprising! Thank you for all being so good so far. I’m heading out for dinner to catch up with my beloved. Much love to the lot of you, and see even more of you in London.
PETER'S FRIENDS – TOBACCO FACTORY, BRISTOL
The deeply lovely legend Peter Clifford, who many of you will remember from The Heist (pretend scientist for the Milgram Experiment) or The Devil’s Picturebook, is hosting four nights of magic at The Tobacco Factory in Bristol. Some of you will know that this is where I performed my first full stage show. This studio theatre is famous for maintaining a superb standard of production, and aside from Peter’s nights, the annual Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory stagings are some of the best you’ll see in the country, often starring Peter himself. Last year they invited Jonathan Miller to direct Hamlet, which, with the faultless Jamie Ballard in the title role (Jamie, a good friend, will also be in Black Death with Andy Nyman) was every bit as good as any of the more highly publicised productions.
So, Peter’s Friends will bring together the best of Britain’s magicians for four Sunday nights: the details of each programme yet to be confirmed but he promises ‘mentalism, gambling cons, street magic and bamboozling outright trickery’. The dates are:
Sunday 28th June
Sunday 26th July
Sunday 27th September
Sunday 25th October
At The Tobacco Factory, Raleigh Rd, Bristol: box office 0117 902 0344.
It’s really worth making sure you secure tickets for these.
FIRST NIGHT WEST END
Well, if I may say so, it was a triumph. The Adelphi is a beautiful theatre and the new, glossed-up show looks a treat. I was amazed that we pretty much sold out the first night – many thanks to any devotees who made it a point to come on the very first night. Wednesday is the official ‘opening’ night, with press and glitzy people present.
The comedian Mark Watson came up on stage after catching a frisbee – he is sensational, I’m a big fan. I did my best to hide any excitement for fear it might look like we’d pre-arranged something.
As Mark says “I can promise everyone it was an absolute fluke, except in the sense that I nearly mowed a couple of people down in my desperation to catch the frisbee, as I have every time I’ve seen him. I assumed Derren didn’t know who I was. When I saw this on the blog I nearly had a heart attack, which would have been hard on my heart as it’s only just recovering from being in that bloody box. As ever, an amazing show.”
There you go. Huzzah and Hurrah. Shall keep you posted with anything of interest.
AND CAKE WINS!
Apologies for the delay. A toss of a 20p found in the cab in which I’m currently riding has found the ‘cake’ entry to the kindness competition to be our lucky winner. The ‘race’ lady, though, gets very special mention for such a worthy and impressive entry. If it were possible to think of a ‘second’ prize for her, slightly less impressive than those we’re sending to the winner, we would do so.
Next project is to find where I put the prizes. I know I had them in Newcastle. Bear with me.
Well done all. Cake Lady please contact Phillis with an address. Oh, and Race Lady please do the same, and if I can find a suitable other something, it shall be yours, tossed coin be damned.
Hard to type in a bumpy cab.
In one of the many odd traditions of theatre, ‘Opening Night’ happened on the third night of the run. And it was an early start, to give the journalists time to write up their glowing doxologies after the event. It felt like a rather good night: full of pace, with some excellent volunteers on stage and a lively, enthusiastic audience. Plenty of members of the press found themselves catching the frisbees and heading up on stage too, which was fun. Sadly a few have printed spoilers in their reviews, despite my request not to, so be careful reading them if you’re coming to see the show and wish to enjoy it fully.
Guests at the party included Charlie Brooker and Reece Shearsmith, two recent faces on this blog. The ‘best dinner-party guest in history or the scariest man in Britain’ quote that my press persons used for some time and which sits on the front cover of ‘Tricks of the Mind’ was written by Charlie years ago, and I was finally able to thank him for it. And I was able to apologise for the fact that they’d replaced the third ‘balls-out con artist’ option with a discreet ‘…’, at least until I read as much in one of Charlie’s books and immediately had the missing section reinstated. So, job done. This was the first time I’d met him properly and he was delightful. Reece and I spoke about Psychoville, which I am desperate to see. We were discussing the option of me going over to his place and watching all seven episodes with him, back-to-back. Which we abandoned as only one of us would be able to see the screen. Doh! We may do that soon. It sounds like a wonderful afternoon to me.
I’m hugely under-slept at the moment, having missed much of the last couple of nights. I’m sat in town, trying to work on the book, but finding it hard to keep my eyes open. I shall sleep at the Adelphi this afternoon. I’ve just come from doing a brief TV interview with David Frost (I haven’t done any TV like that for years). There’s a man who loves people and famously carries about him a conspicuous, easy charm. I nearly fell asleep on his lap. And I’m waiting to meet a very lovely journalist from the New Yorker, Adam Green, who comes over to see the shows when they open. He’ll probably have to wake me.
I thought I should mention that the other night I was having dinner, upstairs from where I am now, in the same restaurant as both Noel Fielding AND Russ Abbot. How about that. What a thought. No, they weren’t sat together, but there you go. Both in the same restaurant. Imagine.
Enough celebrity gossip. If I find any nice pictures from the party I’ll put them up. Now I’m just going to close my eyes for a few moments. Ssshhhh….
MOI ON THE RADIO
I have just done an interview in my dressing room with a nice chap called Roushan for ICRadio (a student broadcast for Imperial College). You can listen, or indeed listen again, at icradio.com on Wednesday evening at eight (hopefully) or for a while thereafter. Have a listen, all the cool people do.
I spent yesterday afternoon at Reece Shearsmith’s surprisingly leafy and sunny place watching the entire series of Psychoville. It’s extremely good – I’m sure fans of The League will be delighted. The performances are excellent and the writing absolutely spot-on. I really loved it. In particular don’t miss the fourth episode.
I brought biscuits, crisps and sandwiches for us, and left feeling like a fat pig.
This picture shows us in his magic den. He has in there a formidable collection of old books on spiritualism which he beat me to in an auction a while back. I covet them, and can’t believe I let them go. I think I hate him for that.
Last night, with the passing of Jackson, was one of those ‘I remember where I was’ moments. I found out at stage door, from some friends, and there was much discussion over post-show dinner. It is added to my list: Diana’s death happened when I was getting ready to go to London to attend the Bandler/McKenna NLP course. 9/11 was sat in an LA hotel room glued to the set. Those moments are somehow inextricably linked to mundane surroundings, as if everything becomes a little heightened at those times.
And lets have a little moment for Farah Fawcett too. I remember what I was doing then: I was online reading about Michael Jackson’s death.
AGNOSTICISM – COPPING OUT?
Nigel Warburton will be on the Richard Bacon show on Radio 5 live, Tues 30th June from midnight, talking on the subject of agnosticism and whether it’s a cop-out. I recently posted a flyer for his talk with the group Dialogue with Islam about whether we need religion. I have heard from a source that there was ‘a symptomatic moment… when the Humanist association organizer without irony asked the Muslims to the pub to carry on the conversation.’
A while ago I was interviewed by Jon Ronson, and since then have met him a few times at a friend’s barbeques. A fascinating and funny man to talk to. Last night I watched his ‘Revelations’ documentary on the Alpha Course, which exists to turn agnostics into Christians. It was on C4, and is well worth a watch if you can find some way of doing so. He followed eight agnostics attending the course, who, through the clever structure of the course days, had Jesus gently and relentlessly sold to them. It became increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Certain things struck me in particular:
1 – Each of the attendees was clearly unhappy. Hence, one imagines, their attending such a course. The relentless and structured selling of any solution to unhappiness in that sort of environment would clearly be effective. Any message could have been offered. In fact, the 1 in 8 success rate the Alpha Course apparently boasts would seem rather low, compared to other life-changing happiness secrets (bogus or otherwise) which could have been proffered instead. Having attended several courses, religious or otherwise in my time, I can testify how quickly one falls in line with thinking, and starts to think and speak as a devotee, enjoying the bonding of the group. It’s a pointer to perhaps how ultimately mundane and misguided the message was at this course that not more attendees were ‘spoken to’. Loads of unhappy people ready to accept God, and the perfect environment to find him: you’d imagine a least as much enthusiasm and ‘conversion’ as from an NLP course, surely?
2. I can’t reconcile in my mind the person of Jesus, whoever he was in history, and the modern need to have a course as manipulative as this one. It’s a shame that God seems to need salesmen, and a structure as ultimately cynical and carefully thought-through as the Alpha Course to connect with people. There were parallels with a time-share ‘talk’ that I once went to, and echoes of plenty of brain-washing techniques from history. What a shame that people, especially unhappy ones, need to be broken down in such a familiar way. The Christians involved I’m sure, don’t see it as remotely cynical, just preparing a ground for God to do his best work. But if they don’t also stop and honestly wonder if they’ve been recruited into a persuasion exercise, then they’re doing themselves an injustice. I spoke to an ex-pastor recently from a Charistmatic church who left his calling out of disgust at the manipulative techniques he knew he was employing, and expected to employ, with his congregation. The placing of the music, the manipulative nature of the music itself, the timing of the emotional pleas, the whipping up of the crowd hysteria, the pushing over of people to suggest they’d been ‘slain in the Spirit’, the transparent nonsense of getting everyone to talk in tongues and the arbitrariness of so-called ‘interpretations; the heightening of suggestibility: he had the honesty to realise that nothing separated him from a stage hypnotist or a revivalist showman. He still privately believes, but is disgusted at the manipulative techniques that are used. At the time, it’s hard for him to say if he was being ‘cynical’ or not. Probably not – he was just letting God do his work and providing a rousing experience for his congregation. It took a moment of brave honesty to see what was going on.
3. There was an interesting exchange between a questioning attendee and one of the Christians designated to gently persuade them during the small group meetings. The Christian said that God had spoken to him on a bus. He had been asked to carry out an assignment which he felt was probably too much for him, and God has spoken to him, ‘as a voice inside his head’, to say ‘you can’t do it’. The question was asked – a perfectly sensible one – how did he know it came from God, as opposed to from himself? The question was treated as patronising and offensive, by the very people placed there to answer sensible questions. It was brilliantly symptomatic of the problem: that rational discussion has no place at the table. Just believe it because it’s true. End of story.
MY ‘ENIGMA' DRESSING ROOM AT THE ADELPHI
A candid look at the behind-the-scenes world of a megastar mentalist. What goes on before the curtain goes up? Where is all that make-up applied? Does he insist on a thousand white lillies to be placed into his room before each performance? And how revolting are Coops’ feet? These and other questions are answered in this stunning short film which explores the video facility on the new iPhone.
PS Yes, I’ve learnt that I should rotate the camera ninety degrees. Yes, yes.
2000 PEOPLE SING ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY' TO COOPS
I took a moment during the show to have the audience wish my brilliant PA a Happy 30th. of course, forgot to turn the camera landscape again. Boh. I’ll get there in the end.
Many thanks to any of you who were there last night for indulging me. Coops was chuffed. And splendid work, all of those of you who sent in congratulatory artwork for the birthday boy. Wonderful stuff.
Bally technology. IPhone won’t let me blog at all, and I’m rarely wi-fied up to be able to do so on this laptop. But here I am. Thank you for waiting.
I have, since Sunday, been attempting to point you in the direction of Doux Delices, the extraordinary recipe blog of a friend who cooked us dinner last Sunday. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to be treated and pampered and fluffed of a Sunday afternoon when one is otherwise book-writing by day and being a handsome mind-reader by night: wonderful home-made pesto-and-bread followed by the most pant-puddlingly perfect duck, orange and mango salad and then a criminally palatable cake served with champagne and an all-you-can-eat ticket to the lovely conversation bar, all made for an unspeakably magnificent afternoon. I really can’t express how wonderful it was. I can’t. Just stop reading, it’s pointless.
This is the last full week of the show, before our final few days next week… it’s all been great fun. And then straight into The Events, ready to walk up and slap your TV screens on 09/09/09. Get in. Can’t tell you anything about them yet. It’ll all come. All good things to those who wait.
Hey-ho. Back to the book. Ta-ra.
WHAT DOES THE 51ST MOST INFLUENTIAL GAYBO AND 8TH SEXIEST MALE ATHEIST DO ON HIS DAY OFF?
So yesterday, Richard Wiseman and I went for a private guided tour around one of the Natural History Museum’s storage units in South London. It was quite extraordinary: acres of taxidermy and enormous skeletons, and some very special pieces: the skeleton of the Thames Whale, for example, is set out in a glass cabinet. We had a smell of a phial of whale oil extracted from the creature. It was quite a pleasant, unusual, soft smell, rather difficult to describe. A little like white tea, perhaps. By which I mean actual white tea, not PG with milk. If you don’t know what white tea smells like, you’re on your own. We also met Guy the Gorilla, the erstwhile London Zoo attraction who now sits on a shelf surrounded by lesser known apes; elsewhere amongst some glassy-eyed deer, an antelope discovered by Darwin as the first recorded of its sub-species, which was then many years later visited by the teary-eyed grandson of the extraordinary naturalist; and the arse-end of the actual bear who, they found out later, was featured on the California State flag:
That one there. That actual individual bear. I bet you didn’t even know they had a flag. I didn’t.
I did take some pictures, but I’m awaiting some clearance forms to be able to put them up here, so you’ll have to wait too.
Next, we’re hoping to go and visit Archie, the giant squid.
Today, I’m meeting with the gallery-owner who will be showing and selling some of my pictures. For any of you wishing to see them, the exhibition will run from 6-21st August at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery, Charlotte St, London W1. Just opposite a sensational Japanese restaurant called Roka, which will round off your trip perfectly. More news on all of this as we firm up details: you’ll be the first to know.
Finally, as I’ve been writing solidly, it’s been a long while since I did any reading, which is rather upsetting. However, I thought I’d mention The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt. This is a fascinating and challenging tour through the principles of positive psychology: an overview of empirical research into what genuinely makes us happier (as opposed to the misleading, short-term effects of much of ‘self-help’). I hugely enjoyed this book.
ALL FINISHED. ALL GONE.
This year’s run is over, although I see that tickets are already dribbling out on sale for NEXT year. Plans are afoot to come to Cardiff, Dublin and Belfast in 2010. Currently no news on Scotland. PLEASE be a super luv and don’t email asking where we’re going: it should all get firmed up before not too long and we’ll let you know as soon as we do.
There was a lovely audience for the last night, so thank you very much, any of you who made it. After the show time was short: I had to clear out my dressing room so burst through a graceless signing. Apologies for being so rushed to those of you who waited back that night. I then went for a quiet drink with a friend (and ended up chatting to Jude Law until late BECAUSE THAT’S THE KIND OF LIFE I LEAD). Jen, Simon, Andy B, Iain, Jen and I had exchanged our presents over cocktail Martinis on Friday night, so that we cold all do our boring last-night clearing away on the Saturday. You may be interested to know that I gave Coops a Fortnum’s finest Beauty Of The Foot set for his unhappy and noisome tootsies.
I have a day to settle a few things at home, and then this week I am working on The Events and filming a trailer for them. You may remember towards the end of last year I posted a picture of me on the upper deck of a bus with a bunch of kids, saying it related to something this year. Now is the time I am hoping it may pay off, as it related to this September’s shows. More news when the time is right.
My apartment is full of builders’ dust, drilling and bottom cleavages. I’m sneezing and my desk is liberally betissued. The art exhibition starts next week and poor Coops, back after barely a day off, is busying himself with sorting out the pictures for it. Things are a fraction frantic, frenzied and frenetic. I get a little weekend away in Venice in a few days, which will be much-needed.
CURRENTLY READING (when I get the chance, like this weekend), the Phaidon pocket edition of Gombrich’s The Story of Art. It’s a glorious book, which I know well in the larger edition you’re more likely to be familiar with, but this handsome little carry-round conveniently suits my lifestyle-options and means I can re-read it while perving after some gondolier. Much love. x
LAST NIGHT'S ART LAUNCH
Well – last night was the combined book launch party for ‘Portraits’ (delayed somewhat due to the West End run), and the start of a 2 week exhibition. We have some photos, but they’re not quite in my hands yet: promise to put some up here when I can.
As mentioned before, the exhibition of prints and originals runs at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery on Charlotte St in London until the 21st. Sales are already high, and if any of you do find that prints are sold out, we and the gallery will aim to get new ones available as soon as we can (aside from the limited runs of course).
I’m also looking at a very handsome oversized postcard set, which we’re going to be selling on the site. Rather yummy. Changes will all happen to the site this week.
Meanwhile, not being a seasoned sun-bather, I burnt myself horrendously on the Venice Lido all down my front. Could not have felt any more like a Brit abroad. Don’t bother with the Clarins SF40 concentrate, that’s what I say.
Otherwise it was a splendid weekend. The Gondolieri proved disappointing as expected. There’s only one handsome chap in this photograph and we all know damn well who it is:
Hope you all have less red and sensitive skin than I do.
PHOTOS FROM LAUNCH PARTY
Stephen’s amazing transformation makes his picture here look like a before/after shot.
Much fun was had. I was in the Rebecca Hossack gallery today on Charlotte St doing some TV interviews about the exhibition, and the nice lady thought the Julianne Moore was Fergie. Wasn’t sure whether to let it go, but I didn’t, and corrected her. ‘Twas live and everything. Ha.
Once I can get my head around it and Phillis has explained all in a slow, calm voice, I shall Twitter properly. For those following, we’re looking to combine the @browntowers and @derrenbrown into a big jumbo @derrenbrown where I shall twitter and the blog will still feed. At the moment I’m still slightly bewildered and feel like an old man. But I’ll get there – the accounts should be combined in the next couple of days, and then it’s just working out my iPhone app.
Bear with me please. And thank Phillis for persuading me – I never saw myself doing it at all. I’ll try to only do it when I’m drunk and emotional.
I realise it’s all sold out, so you can only hope for returns, but do what you can to see this production at the Wyndham’s theatre. Jude Law is astonishing. Breathtaking. He utterly owns the house, practically dances through the part, pitch perfect and crystal-clear. It’s rare to feel as pampered by an actor: as engaged, involved and spoken to so clearly. Penelope Wilton, probably our finest living stage actress, is magnificent as Gertrude: the closet scene is beautifully turned on its head and the long-awaited eruption between son and mother that brings her part to the fore is wild and shocking. Kevin R. McNally as Claudius is every bit as great. The pace is relentless: the first half is over before you know it, and throughout, the language utterly lucid.
This is not to forget for a second Tennant’s glorious recent portrayal, which I was lucky enough to see and loved, nor the wonderful Jamie Ballard in Jonathan Miller’s less trumpeted (and equally prized) Tobacco Factory production in Bristol: the latter of which must surely get a London revival. All three performances have been, for my money, hypnotic and impeccable. Not that any of these giants need to hear it from me.
But seeing as you might have a royal ghost of a chance to pull strings and see this last of the trio before it disappears, can I urge you to do what you can to get in there. Theatrically these are exciting times.
Gearing up for 09.09.09; the start of The Events. The first night could be a career-breaker. Will tell all nearer the time.
For now, here’s another picture of me on top of that bus: I posted a couple last November here, and here’s another one, showing a bit more.
It’ll all make sense. You saw it here first, folks. I said at the time it should pay off in 2009: well, we’re nearing the crunch. If it all goes boobies-up, blame those pesky kids: I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for them.
Thanking you. Please continue.
Charlie’s ‘You Have Been Watching’ from last night’s C4. Some hysterical, terrifying, priceless lookings at religious programming – take a look from 19 mins 30. Jesus would be so proud.
HUZZAH FOR MEDICINE THAT WORKS
Well, good news. The hard work of Sense About Science has brought about a definitive statement from the World Health Organisation that condemns the use of homeopathy for serious diseases, clarifying that it cannot treat such things. Turns out the preference is for medicine that works, and stands up to trails and testing. How ‘western’ and ‘narrow-minded’!
From Sense About Science:
The WHO has responded to a call from young medics and said that it DOES NOT recommend the use of homeopathy for treating HIV, TB, malaria, influenza and infant diarrhoea. In an open letter to the WHO in June this year, the group of early career medics and researchers from the UK and Africa asked the body to make clear that homeopathy cannot prevent or treat these serious diseases in the face of its growing promotion by manufacturers and practitioners. The Director General’s office has confirmed that the responses from WHO departments (below) “clearly express the WHO’s position”. Today the Voice of Young Science network, who coordinated the letter, has written to the health ministers of all countries to publicise the WHO’s position, asking them to combat the promotion of homeopathy for these dangerous diseases.
Comments from the WHO:
Dr Mario Raviglione, Director, Stop TB Department, WHO: “Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care (ISTC) do not recommend use of homeopathy.”
Dr Mukund Uplekar, TB Strategy and Health Systems, WHO: “WHO’s evidence-based guidelines on treatment of tuberculosis…have no place for homeopathic medicines.”
Dr Teguest Guerma, Director Ad Interim, HIV/AIDS Department, WHO: “The WHO Dept. of HIV/AIDS invests considerable human and financial resources […]to ensureaccess to evidence-based medical information and to clinically proven, efficacious, and safe treatment for HIV… Let me end by congratulating the young clinicians and researchers of Sense About Science for their efforts to ensure evidence-based approaches to treating and caring for people living with HIV.”
Dr Sergio Spinaci, Associate Director, Global Malaria Programme, WHO: “Thanks for the amazing documentation and for whistle blowing on this issue… The Global Malaria programme recommends that malaria is treated following the WHO Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria”.
Joe Martines, on behalf of Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development, WHO: “We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit to the treatment of diarrhoea in children…Homeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration – in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea.”
THAT 3D THANG
I have indeed been asked to introduce a 3D magic show (of magicians’ acts in 3D) as part of the C4 season, which I have no doubt will be terrific, but this isn’t a new special from me (which the Mail makes it seem a little like). Just so you know. I’ll be presenting, and bloody charmingly, but the brilliance will come from the acts I’m introducing. Mind-reading sadly doesn’t lend itself too well to 3D.
Has a nice ring to it. Thank you all: the phenomenal Philis, Abeo and all of you lovely mans and wofems. Thank you all very much indeed for making this a successful place. Line up please and receive your back-pats. X
I’m repeating myself here, as I just popped this on Twitter, but this really is a rather lovely blog – quite an oasis in the hectic, genital-ridden world of Her Majesty’s Internet. I have met the lady in question (that is NOT her in the picture above: that’s Phillis): she is extremely lovely and runs a very famous independent book-shop. I did not know at the time of her tea obsession. I can say without fear of ridicule that I have my own tea imported from Paris, (the chai-curious may wish to begin exploring Mariage Freres here), and am currently sipping at a rather good Ying Long White Tea from the sensational Algerian Coffee Company, poured from a nifty little double-walled glass Bodum baby – this one, in fact, seeing as you asked.
Have a little look, and have a lovely evening. x
PRANK AT BRISTOL ZOO
Those of you who have read Tricks of The Mind may remember the spider prank I played with a flatmate. He’s just rather brilliantly amused himself at Bristol Zoo and sent me this little film of the result. It’s priceless. Go and see it if you’re nearby. It’s a lovely zoo – I used to take myself there every year on my birthday – and tell the staff you think this is a fine and witty feature. It’s still there apparently.
TRICKS FOR COOPS
Sometimes, on an off night, I feel like the guy in the red.
This is just fascinating. I love how, when presented with a coin vanish, he goes straight for the other hand, just like we all do.
Thank you Steve.
TAKE PART IN THE EVENTS!
Come and be involved in my nationwide experiment, and be part of The Events.
Yesterday evening, a curator of London’s famous Science Museum drew a picture in secret, wrapped it up in newspaper and placed it in the museum on display. No-one but she knows what it is.
Until next Thursday, 3rd Sept, this picture will remain on display for any of you who wish to take part, to come and look at the wrapped-up picture and attempt to sense what the image is. The only limitation placed on the curator is that she was to draw some ‘simple design’, to make the image relatively straightforward.
If you would like to take part in this experiment into psychic ability which will form part of one of The Events, please visit the Science Museum and follow the signs to the picture.
Good luck! Your guesses will be shown on TV in September.
Best wishes to you all,
Location details :
The Science Museum
MORALITY WITHOUT GOD
Some sensible and fascinating discussion from Nigel Warburton’s excellent, excellent Philosophy Bites series. They really are ever so good.
From the site: Morality is a human creation. We don’t need God to have morality. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, author of a recent book on the topic, argues forcefully for this position in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.
You may know this already, but if you don’t it’s a great, fun thing. If a little wordy, but hey. Put some headphones on, close your eyes, and let your brain do the rest. It’s very effective.
Enjoy your weekends, The Events fun and games will heat up from Monday.
The Mirror and the Sun are correct. I’ve just got up, or you’d have got it earlier yourselves. I shall try and predict at least 5 out of the 6 balls correctly. I apologise now if it goes boobs-up.
This the culmination of a LOT of secret work and research. On Weds night, live at 10.35 pm, it will cut across all Channel 4 channels, and be broadcast on buildings in
London (Tate Modern),
Manchester (Premier Lodge/back-up Deansgate Lock),
Birmingham (5-ways Entertainment Complex/Bull-ring, Moor St Side as back-up)
and Edinburgh (Hunter Square/back-up Museum of Scotland)
Then, on the first Friday night EVENTS one-hour special (9pm, C4, Fri 11th), I’ll show you how I did it.
The following Fridays will offer other ambitious live or interactive stunts and treats.
– A subliminal piece of media that will stick you to your seats at home.
– A nationwide psychic experiment
– A casino-related scam with a twist.
I’ll let you know more each week.
Wish me luck for Wednesday – I might even pray.
A relief to finally be able to talk about it! xx
… In advance if it all goes wrong tonight. We’ll just remember the good times. My lift has arrived, I must go. Thank you for all your kind offers to buy tickets on my behalf if I pass on the numbers, I am very touched.
Wish me luck, and I hope not to be a very embarrassed beardy-man later this evening. If you’re playing, you have good luck too.
Have lovely days. Spare a thought for me around 10.36.
The projection tonight in London will be on the Tate Modern, NOT Marble Arch. And there should be sound and everything.
DID YOU STICK?
Well, there we go. Just got back.
I couldn’t say before the film that it wouldn’t work on all of you, as expectation really helps it work. Apologies if the film didn’t work on you, and congrats if it did. We had about 50, 000 calls come in on the night. Even though clearly some of those 50k wouldn’t have stuck and were just phoning to mention their genitals, those clever people who understand how to calculate viewing figures (that’s done, amazingly, from a group of only 1000 people with special buttons on their TVs) and the like reckon that we are probably looking at about 10 times that number in terms of people actually affected. So perhaps 1/2 a mil of you were affected – hopefully we’ll get a better sense of how many in the days to come. I say round it up to a BILLION though – it has a nice ring to it. But ask around, you should all know someone who it worked on (if it didn’t work on you).
2 people stuck in the TV gallery too, which was a cheap laugh for all of us.
Thank you so much for watching, I hope you enjoyed the show. Next week, pen and paper ready please.
YOU TUBE VIDEOS
Some people who stuck right and proper on Friday night have started posting videos of their immobile selves. Here’s my favourite: a great video of one Vicky Green, who had the foresight, along with many others, to film herself. Thank you, VIcky, for posting this, and I hope you don’t mind me posting it again here.
Please let us know if you’re going to post vids of yourselves stuck: I would love to keep them for posterity.
Hope you’re all up and about now. Slightly disappointed there have been no angry calls to the Daily Mail from the paralysed middle classes: a bit of scandal never goes amiss. We shall wait until Monday to see for sure.
DERREN GOES CRUISING
Just returned from a wonderful few days aboard P&O’s Aurora, along with Mr Coops and Iain. I’m guessing many of you won’t have ever booked a cruise, or imagine it might be something to do in retirement, but I urge you to reconsider. The atmosphere is immediately, staggeringly friendly, and waking up every morning in a different port is just wonderful. Plus, if you like a bit of solitude, there’s nothing like sitting on your balcony with a great book, overlooking the vast expanse of endless ocean. Just bliss – and that’s without even leaving the ship. I did 3 shows in a beautifully equipped theatre, an interview/Q&A which was much much fun. And met some really lovely passengers, most of them seasoned cruisers.
A big hello, ahoy, and thank you to anyone reading this who was aboard – it was a real pleasure. We’ll be aiming to do it again, and bringing Jennie next time. So if you catch her in the Masquerades discotheque, perhaps you can persuade her to do that dance.
A lovely week. Thank you to all involved for looking after us so well. x
NEW DARWIN FILM SHUNNED BY AMERICA
The Middle Ages are still with us. A new bio-pic of Darwin, called Creation, has failed to find a US distributor because of worries that it will be too controversial for American audiences. Let’s hope whiffs of said controversy put heat around the film and get it the exposure it might sorely need out there. Oh deary me.
TO ANYONE IN BOSTON, US
Look and smile. I love this guy.
COMMON ANCESTOR FOUND
Fascinating article in the National Geographic. Two years of gradually removing mud from a skeleton with a needle under a microscope – to avoid the bones turning to dust upon contact – have revealed that our common ancestor wasn’t quite the chimp-like creature we expected. Wonderful stuff.
Also, please note the following sentence from the article:
‘Then came early Homo, with its even bigger brain and budding tool use.’
I thank you.
Back home now, 3 am. The post that was here at 10.10 was put up in my absence – I’ve edited it now I’m back.
The Events are now over and I want to thank everyone who tuned in over the last few weeks. Along the way, 20m viewers tuned in – far more than any of us ever imagined – and I hope most of you enjoyed the shows. It’s been a real ride: I’ve had loads of fun making them, though I’m still reeling from tonight’s escapade. I called Ben as soon as I could and he doesn’t hate me, so I can sleep tonight.
I’ll be back on C4 in two months’ time as part of 3D Week in November. You’ll all be able to revel in the glory of me in 3D by collecting your special 3D specs from Sainsburys stores around November time. Enjoy.
Thank you again, all of you who watched or even took part in the interactive elements. Loads of love, and sweet dreams.
DERREN'S STEWIE IMPRESSION
Oh dear. I may really regret doing this. It’s a bit iffy. But by popular demand, here it is.
Good Afternoon Labia and Genitals.
Just to let you know that yours truly is working on a 3-part documentary series which will hopefully be out and about at the start of next year. What, oh what oh what oh what are the documentaries going to be about, I like to imagine you asking. Well shush your lips up and I shall say.
The idea is to spend a week or so for each one-hour documentary with a person who makes some kind of paranormal claim, and see what they get up to. As a sceptic (as opposed to a cynic), I’m interested in to what extent the evidence for their claims holds up, and thusly and therefore will be asking what are hopefully all the right questions along the way. Doing what I do for a living, my desire for these claims to hold up is accompanied by the fact I would love to be convinced and for the claims to be true. After all, I spend most of my time fabricating those very powers or worlds myself.
So far I’ve made two, and we’re doing one more for now. If you like them, then hopefully there’ll be more again. It’s been a fascinating journey for me, and there have been surprises and things I’ve learnt along the way. There have been very uncomfortable moments and some particularly eye-opening ones. The documentary participants have surprised me, and dealt with questioning that must have seemed at times relentless and pedantic. I certainly don’t have quite the gung-ho scepticism I had: I’ve realised it’s a much more complex and human area than I had imagined.
I shall blog more on the subject when the docs come out. We’re unsure of the title at the moment: ‘Derren Brown meets…’ and ‘The Unexplained’ have been suggested, both of which make me feel a little wobbly.
Hope you’re all happy.
It was dear Phillis who had the task of persuading your blogger to get onto Twitter, and she had a tricky task at that. I was very reticent. Why on earth would it be of any interest to anyone how I was conducting my days, and why on earth would I care how they went about theirs? It took much proselytising and a ready stream of drinks to have me reluctantly, whiningly, well-alright-I’ll-try-it-for a while-ly agree to pop my head round that particular door and see if it looked like a party I’d enjoy.
I twitter (I believe one twitters a tweet, but some seem to use ‘tweet’ as the verb, so I’m a little unsure) sporadically, with no particular agenda, mainly to pass on things that amuse. As this blog passes to the Twittersphere through the same feed, I figured less serious, personal tweets from me might balance out the grander posts from Mother Blog. Having said this, the number of my ‘followers’ (I prefer ‘disciples’, it’s just nattier) has grown to such proportions that I am, during quiet moments, wondering how I might go about embracing so many people to try something rather more nefarious. Bear with me, I’ll find something.
I try to scan at least my recent ‘mentions’ and replies as much as I can without endangering my career, getting run over or irritating my real-life companions to the point of violence. I’m aware that quite a proportion of these tweets boil down to people requesting I reply to them; a sadly insurmountable task given the numbers, were I to comply. So forgive me: I do read most tweets, and tend to DM a response to things I find interesting, but the numbers are huge and time is oftentimes sadly lacking.
I follow very few people, as I like to have only a manageable number of tweets pop up for worthwhile reading when I open up Twittelator, or Tweetie 2, or twatever. This is perhaps because I am a novice in this strange new world, and maybe I should throw myself in and follow anyone and everyone. For now, I have turned down requests to follow a good number of real-life friends for this reason, which shames me a little, and a million or so requests from friendly twitterers to do the same. As it is, I follow @stephenfry, because you get him free when you join Twitter; my co-conspirator and fluffer @andynyman, our own @lordcoopy and a small handful of other chums including the brilliant @serafinowicz.
As a performer with a public profile, Twitter puts me horribly close to real feedback, which is a mixed blessing. Very quickly one learns not to read reviews in order to remain sane (I don’t even read interviews or articles about myself any more), as one can skim past a hundred glowing comments and get to a single nasty dig which then eats away at one for days. And the internet has a habit of bringing out witless vitriol in people in a way that other fora tend not to. Politeness and decency are quickly abandoned by most when they are not face to face with those they criticise, and probably don’t even imagine that their comments might be read by the person in question. That one in a hundred comment, through some infuriating glitch in ones sensitivity, has a vastly disproportionate effect to the many positive ones which remain largely ignored. The lovely thing about Twitter is that, unlike reading blogs or online discussions, eighty percent of the comments are from people who are amiably disposed, and it warms the ego a little to delve into such kind thoughts, albeit sixty three times a day. The trick is to peripherally anticipate the occasional ‘@derrenbrown is a prick’ tweet, and jump past it still smiling, as it scrolls down into vision.
For those who find the thought of Twitter ridiculous, I do not presume to argue. Vapid and ludicrous, of course. I read a tweet from a tearful lady who had just received a hug from a person she didn’t know in the street and had decided on the spot to withdraw from Twitter (which had presumably taken up much of her time), implying that it was an empty place that bore no comparison to real-life relationships. Indeed it is, and should be no substitute for them. It is, most of the time, footling and featherbrained: luckily, we can enjoy plenty of things in life which are pretty inconsequential, and appreciate the wit and colour they add to our days. I can’t honestly think of a reason for the stuffed giraffe which is looking at me from my hallway other than I like it being there and it’s a fun place to hang scarves. But occasionally, with Twitter’s capacity to spread important ideas within moments, it can also be utterly majestic and invaluable. Though it has to be said you might not find that so much on my feed.
Right, I haven’t checked my mentions for almost twelve minutes now, so off you pop.
DEREK ACORAH TO CONDUCT MICHAEL JACKSON SEANCE FOR SKY
Yes indeedy. You heard it here first. Unless you read Broadcast.
Can you honestly imagine anything – anything – more anus-invertingly unpalatable than this? I hate myself for drawing attention to it. “The shows were ordered by Sky 1 HD commissioning editor Clare Hollywood, who will also executive produce. Steve Regan and Melanie Leach exec produce for Twofour.” And we salute them for it.
So proud to be in telly.
Yesterday, first-hand, I saw Twitter achieve two apparent results for civility. In the morning, I posted a tweet drawing attention to an online report of a tube official seemingly humiliating an elderly passenger who had his arm caught in a door. A little while later I RTd (‘re-tweeted’: passed on) Charlie Broker’s strongly-worded thoughts on Jan Moir’s unpleasant article of dailymailia. The latter was then picked up by Stephen Fry, and by the end of the day it had gained such widespread awareness that both stories had made the evening news. The tube official was investigated under pressure from Boris Johnson and received a suspension, and Moir issued a statement saying she was a victim of an orchestrated campaign.
Moir’s interpretation was wrong, and betrays a misguided notion about the nature of Twitter and similar forms of networking. There is no orchestration – just the rapid spread of information. Tweets (posts) are passed on, word gets around, and when a Twitter giant like Stephen Fry mentions it, a million people hear and many pass it on themselves. The response to Moir’s article came from areas much further than the Twittersphere, and although the accusation made was one of homophobia, her critics were not defined by sexuality. Ads were withdrawn from her online article, a strong critical voice was heard, and the Daily Mail became mortal for half a day. If the Mail exists to motivate the small-minded complaining communities of outraged middle England, for once it had a clear voice of outrage hurled back at it.
I hope that the tube official was fairly investigated and deserves his suspension. And that the complaints lodged against Moir have a worthwhile effect. As vast numbers shun print and turn to the net for their news, yesterday sounded an interesting note: an infamous newspaper held to account by a sharp, informed, conscientious public. It may even be a first. I did not know Gately, but there was time when he feared the press ‘outing’ him. If his passing has caused this familiar form of mawkish, snide journalism to be held to account, then perhaps we could see that as a tribute to him. And to the astonishing impact of Twitter, and the shared decency of its users.
DB ON TV
Oh hi. Just a quick postlet to alert your eyes to the fact that my face and arse will be soiling your televisuals tonight on BBC4 at 9pm. I did what’s known in the industry as an ‘interview’ (kind of like a chat) for a documentary about the depiction of ghosties on TV. There’s me, Mark Gatiss, Steve Volk (Ghostwatch) – I think we’re all on there. I haven’t seen it, and can’t remember if I said anything remotely interesting, but am looking forward to it.
Please now continue with your beautiful lives.
THE XFACTOR EXPERIENCE
Yes, I know. It doesn’t exactly fit the ‘brand’. But once a year for ten weeks or so I plug in the TV in the bedroom and follow this extraordinary show with an exhausting mixture of anger and delight. I cannot watch the auditions, as few things disturb me more about modern TV than people being humiliated and misled for our entertainment, but once the live shows are up and running I can’t wait for Saturday night. I’m still disturbed by it: something in me worries at the idea of a show offering a very narrow vision of success to a group of talented and vulnerable individuals and groups, eleven of whom we have to see dramatically lose in order for one to grasp this dubious prize. I’m niggled by the voting structure, and whether the public vote is a huge exercise in misdirection. And above all I hate watching people lose. I hate the booing and the vile press frenzy; I loathe myself for moments when I want someone kicked off the show, or for sharing in an ounce of that hostility.
Then last night, in one whirly, girly evening, I got to see the show and meet everyone.
NEW BUS CAMPAIGN
Had a delightful evening in the company of atheist heavyweights R Dawkins (on great form) and AC Grayling (I hadn’t met him before but love his work: he is particularly delightful in the flesh), as well as David Baddiel, who is always such a bright, switched-on pleasure. For anyone who came along to the Foyles event, I hope you enjoyed it, and apologies for rambling on too long about magic structure when I got asked a question.
Dinner after the event yielded the fact that a new atheist bus campaign is being kicked off. Araine, an organiser of the Foyles evening, a Guardian columist and the editor/driving force behind the Atheists’s Guide to Christmas (on our reading list of course), is behind the bus campaign too. Quite a claim to fame, and the sweetest, least imposing lady you could meet. The campaign focusses one unpleasant aspect of proselytising to children: the resultant labelling of tiny kids as ‘Christian’, ‘Muslim’ etc, in a way that we would never do with, say, political affiliations (labelling a small child ‘Conservative’, for example, seems very wrong). ‘Atheist’ is of course also included as an equally regrettable label to be attached to a child: the message is, to allow children to choose for themselves when they are old enough to decide.
Her column on the campaign is here.
The BBC story on the subject is here.
BHOPAL GAS LEAK DISASTER
An awareness project as we approach the anniversary of a terrible disaster which has killed more people than Chernobyl. It seems that the company at fault managed to dodge liability. Please have a read and support if you can. This message from the appeal:
Wednesday 3 December is the 25th Anniversary of The Union Carbide Bhopal Gas leak disaster which has, to date, killed 25,000 in Bhopal, India. Today the site remains contaminated, and the people of Bhopal are still dying, poisoned by a contaminated water supply:
The story is growing worldwide, with protests next week planned in 25 countries.
We, The Bhopal Medical Appeal, are a UK charity that offers free health care and hope to the survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak disaster and those suffering from the present day water poisoning.
You could help support our work:
If you use Twitter
Follow us on Twitterhttp://twitter.com/BhopalMedAppeal and you could either tweet about us or re tweet anything of ours you like!
We will be running a re-tweet campaign on the day of the anniversary to try and get as many people re-tweeting as possible, so be great if you and your friends could use the #bhopal25 tag.
Add a Bhopal/Amnesty 25 Twibbon to your twitter profile
Join us on Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Bhopal-Medical-Appeal/176365402876
Link to any of the above or the Bhopal Medical Appeal website if you mention Bhopal in your blogs etc at www.bhopal.org
Rather tired and dreamy and overstuffed after a long and lovely day of great food, company and wine. And the JJ Abrams Star Trek on the home cinema. I hope you’ve all had a lovely one. For those not following me on Twitter – I have been away filming a documentary and then on holiday, so apologies for my recent poor turnout on the blog.
I do hope you’ve enjoyed your Christmas days, or indeed are still enjoying them for our far distant friends. Tra-la and ho ho ho.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Well, get in and welcome to 2010. I trust all your 2009’s have left room for improvement and you’ll all be moving onwards and upwards. Christmas was rather lovely over at mine: we got to host two of them, and for the first time had a real Christmas tree. (All those years previously I’d been encouraged to merely visualise one, or sometimes a picture might be cut out of a magazine and adhered with glue-sticks to the wallpaper. Now I see what all the fuss was about). The anniversary of the birth of Jesu coincided with the nine months of decorating finally finishing in our apartment, so right there were two reasons to celebrate.
I received many lovely gifts, including a glorious wand remote from my brother and a fantastic Sonos system from my ever-generous self. I have to say, the chaps at SimplySonos are the most thorough and helpful team I have ever come across. It’s an incredibly simple and effective wireless through-house music system, but living amongst a million London wifi networks all competing to cause conflicts and give me different types of head-cancer, it took a bit of tweaking to get it right. The team were shockingly eager and thorough – thank you, chaps.
2010 of course will bring the Enigma Tour once again. Longer than normal, but more relaxed (it’s all several nights in each venue which makes a real difference) it’s looking to be a real treat – for me at least. I luuurrrve it. I shall be spending much of this month reminding myself of the words before setting off at the start of Feb. No London run this year, of course, though you’ll see from the Tour 2010 page that we’ll be in Wimbledon for a week or so.
I’m also working on a book, as I have mentioned here and there. Many of you have been asking what sort of book it is. I’d say it’s part-autobiographical whimsy. There you go, I hope that answers that one. I am to deliver it in April, I believe, so I shall be editing during the tour most likely. Expect the book out some time around October, cleverly ready for the Christmas market.
Three documentaries will find their ways to your screens in the Spring. In them I am spending a week or so with people making some sort of paranormal claim. It has been quite fascinating, and at times genuinely challenging. I’ve hugely enjoyed making them and hope to make more.
Further TV work should happen after the tour, but when such things will air, I know not. This current month is given over to finalising some ideas that we can film then: we re-commence on Wednesday, which is exciting. The Enigma show will be filmed too during the tour, so hopefully that will go out (or ‘TX’ as they say in the ‘industry’ (as they say in the business)) at some point too.
I have not made any resolutions. Attending my New Year’s Eve party was a hugely talented free-runner friend called, I kid you not, Chase Armitage, whose unholy levels of motivation and energy leave me feeling hopeless in comparison when it comes to setting goals. So I am not anticipating resolving or achieving anything in particular this year. If anything is achieved by accident, I shall let you know right here.
The forever-promised new website should be up soon. It has had to change in scope and nature so many times along the way that it has constantly eluded us. Now we think we have it, and shall pounce on it and hold its arms and legs down.
I have not painted since September 2008 when I was assembling paintings for the delivery of the Portraits book: the studio is now clear following the conclusion of the decorating, but I am unlikely to get a chance to paint before the tour, which means it’ll be getting on for 2 years without painting. That’s not good. The art history memory-palace project also took a back seat when filming and holidays came up, but I shall return to that this month.
Righty-ho, that might be all. Hope the returns to work have not been too painful, and the weening off chocs and crisps a triumphant success.
Rather good animation offering an easy (ish) way to conceive of string theory. And some rather good gadgets to browse elsewhere in the site, which I have to confess is how I came across this.
THE REAL POWER OF CRYSTALS
Just been chatting with the very talented producer/director Nigel Walk, who filmed the astonishing crystal cave sequence at the start of the new landmark BBC series ‘How Earth Made Us’. They could only film in 20 minute bursts due to the lethal levels of heat – it was a hugely difficult thing to film. Have a look, it’s an incredible, beautiful environment. It starts at 2:30.
HERE WE GO!
Sat in our Swansea hotel, on the morning of this tour’s first show. Last night we had a tech run of the show, and all was good, save a couple of issues relating to the few bits we’ve tinkered with. Today we’ll get them ironed out before the performance.
Our crew are all very excited to be back on the road. It’s been seven months or so since we closed in the West End with this show, but once we’re all hanging about in the very familiar backstage area of a theatre, that gap closes rapidly. We have a new member of the group – Jonas – whom we all like very much indeed. And we’re missing Andy, last year’s tech genius, who isn’t with us this time. This year we also have the pleasure of a driver and huge lorry to haul our set and props from venue to venue, which takes much of the strain off our team. On previous years, Simon (our stage manager), Coops, Jennie and Iain have had to arrive in the morning, unload the set from the vans, build the show, set up the lighting and sound, then in the case of a one-nighter, dismantle the whole thing and then heave it all into tiny vans afterwards before driving it to the next venue for early morning. It’s gruelling. This year has very few one-night shows, and the job of unloading, loading and driving is left to a nice man with a big truck. Get in. And get out.
We are a tight-knit family. Coops, of course, is my much-treasured PA the rest of the year, and Jennie and Iain have the more delicate jobs of being my make-up and co-writer friends respectively when we’re not on the road. Touring with such close friends is a huge treat. And we all adore Simon, our touring stage manager, who feels like the grown-up of the group.
There is also, of course, the immense pleasure of performing the show. Each of the four shows has had its own flavour, and have felt different to do. Enigma and Evening of Wonders have been particular pleasures, but I think the current one just takes the lead for me. It’s enormous fun to do. For those that wonder how repeating the same two hours night after night can possibly be so enjoyable, I see your point. But as a performer, if I may appear so revolting, my job is to try to re-create it rather than repeat it: the difference being that I must be sure to remain ‘present’ and ‘in’ it and so on, from moment to moment, so that I am always interested in and engaged with what I’m doing. On a few occasions I have found myself distracted and realised that I have switched to auto-pilot, which is a terrible thing: the equivalent of reading pages of a book without taking anything in. It can also lead to problems: if you are simply saying script without feeling it, it’s all too easy to miss out a chunk or worse, repeat yourself. So each night it feels fresh and fun for me, and the idea is that this affects the way that the show communicates to the audience.
Also, I get to enjoy several months – five this time! – without the constant frustrations of television imposing. My yearly television output takes eight months to conceive, write, film and edit, with all those elements overlapping each other. Budgets are understandably never high enough, and ideas are constantly having to be compromised, or new ones found before horrendous deadlines. The initial joy that comes from finding the ‘hook’ of the show is too often drained by these unavoidable concerns as the months roll on. With the touring, however, we have only the pressure to write and rehearse the show in time, and then ten days or so of of letting it settle in and making any major changes. After that, there is only the pleasure of finding, night after night, little improvements to include for the next show. No demands are made, no pressures added: all the work is done.
There is still much to do: in the days I am finishing a book on which I have been working piecemeal for some time, and on my days off there is TV writing and filming to be done. But having the afternoons free to quietly book edit (or noisily, sat in some cafe) is the one of the greatest pleasures I can think of, and somehow the tour experience – despite it being physically tiring and relentless – feels like enough of a holiday to refresh me enough for the other bits of work.
It’s also always fun to say hello to some of you after the show who are kind enough to wait around in often hugely unfavourable conditions. Forgive me in advance when time permits only a very rushed greeting or, on very rare occasions, no hello at all, but I shall always do my best. Above all, thank you for coming, booking tickets, giving them as gifts, dressing up, travelling some distance to see the show, or doing any one of a number of very flattering things on my account.
Right. Must see what this place does for lunch, and get on top of a few lines for tonight. Eek!
FIRST NIGHT LAST NIGHT
Wow – thank you any of you who were there last night. I really appreciate your comments, and am delighted you enjoyed it. It went well, and we were all very happy afterwards. The little changes all seemed to work, and it looks like one new bit in particular will be fine… we were worried it might not pay off. Saying nothing more.
Have spent the day discussing a new idea for a TV special which I think could be very exciting.
The Monster Munch are arriving… I have been requested to remind you all that Roast Beef is the preferred flavour, so the prize for leaving the most, I’m told, will only apply in cases where that particular flavour has been left. Although I imagine that after a couple of months they’re going to be sick of Roast Beef and will start asking for Pickled Onion. Either way, for those of you daft and generous enough to bother buying and bringing these maize snacks for my presumptuous team-members, don’t forget to leave your details if you’re aiming to win the prize. (They’ll decide on what the prize is as we go along. It’ll be a good one, apparently).
Second nights famously take extra effort. It’s a curious theatre rule. A good first night usually means a poor second, and vice versa. The reason is, that it’s easy to relax if you do really well the first night and then, without the concentration that comes from first-night adrenalin and nerves, you slip up or drop energy on the second. Likewise, if you have a terrible first night, you put in extra effort for the second, correct any problems, and do much better. So for us, there’s always particular attention paid on a second night to make sure it’s at least as good as the first.
We shall see. Certainly it should be a lot of fun.
FINISHING IN SWANSEA
Last night was a classic second night – all good, and very happy with it, but was aware I wasn’t quite on top of it in the same way as the first night. Had a bit of a senior moment in the second half, but all went well. It all read fine, and the show was a good one. Tonight will most likely be an equally textbook third night: aware of a tiny dip on the second, you find renewed vigour for the third and it goes extremely well. After that, it’s just great fun and you’re in the hands of chance from night to night.
Would love to talk about favourite moments – Olly provided one – but don’t want to spoil anything for people coming to see it for the first time. Managed to cut my finger fairly badly at some point but I carried on like the brave little bunny that I am.
Intrigued to hear a white Swansea teenager talk to me with the cross-racial street patois I have previously only heard used by London’s self-possessed minors. The mixture of trademark South-Wales cadence and hip hop argot was far richer than our duller, flatter, more obvious version. This is an especially lovely part of the UK when it comes to dialect. Am fascinated to know to what extent our accents affect how we are perceived and therefore our behaviour: this local lilting speech, for example, must trigger something in the listener that suggests questioning and engagement, and in turn makes the speakers seem more rather more alert, friendly, and lovely to be around. Which surely, in turn, makes them nicer people. A wonderful self-perpetuating process, if it’s at all true.
Last show here tonight then up early for a long drive to Torquay.
PATRICK PAGE LIVES ON
I’ve just heard the very sad news that Patrick Page has passed away. Magicians worth their salt will be know that Patrick was a genius of our craft, and a famously generous man. I knew him a little from his consultancy work on some of my projects: he was a brilliantly rude, sharp-witted, sensationally likeable Scot, better at magic and more knowledgeable than any of us. All of us at Objective are devastated by the news. For some time, the sheer force of his personality has kept him going through illness, but now he doesn’t need to fight any more. At the same time, as with any powerfully creative force, he will live on strongly and defiantly through his work and the legacy he leaves. There’s a bit of Patrick every night in Enigma, and in countless other performances happening now across the world.
It is an honour to have known him, and to continue to know him through his particular genius. Much love to his friends and family from all of us.
Much fun in the modest Riviera of Torquay. Drove in listening to Thomases Waits and Tallis and munching Caramel Bunnies; today dusky pink skies, smell of barbeques and late-awakening Sunday Valentines couples. The show last night felt like a good one, and the audience was decidedly rowdier than in Swansea. Apparently the stalls featured a large man who having once appeared on Come Dine With Me, requested (and sarcastically got) special treatment at the start of the show from our crew, and then was noisy throughout. Most of his party were ejected before the second half, during which the duty manager sat with this chap to make sure he behaved. Thus the second act was very much delayed, and the audience energy at the end was, I think, unavoIdably affected. Tonight may prove to be a different, couply, loved-up sort of crowd.
Apologies to a chap called Sam from whom, in a fluster to keep signing at stage door, I grabbed a ticket rather rudely. If you know Sam, please pass on my apologies. I think I may have been grossly disappointing to meet because of it, and I hate that.
My hotel room, though of high chintz, is proving a great place to work with it’s ocean view, so I am keeping tucked away.
Thank you for coming if you did, and I hoped you enjoyed it. It was a fun night
As imagined, a very couply audience, and rather quieter. Last night (Sunday) was the best show yet.
Today Iain, Jen, Simon and I went to the Marble Museum around Newton Abbott, and then for a drive across the moors to Widecombe, a village made entirely of gift-shops, for a great lunch. The Marble Museum is fun, though again more gift shop than marbles, and contains a number of astonishing runs built by Swiss artist Alex Schmid. Plenty of gifts bought for crew.
Rather full and snug following this afternoon’s gammon steak/toffee pudding, but will try to summon energy for the last night in this lovely place.
Must now begin the nightly steam-inhale-session. Looking forward to tonight.
SARAH THE TALKING RAM
First debauched video of the tour. This was late in Torquay, and features Sarah, a ram (?) bought from the Marble Museum gift shop, showing off her talking skills. This followed a gigglesome evening in front of YouTube, watching the talking cats and dogs compilation you’ll be no doubt familiar with (if not, watch first, otherwise this will be even more pointless). Iain donned Sarah, hid behind the chair and is doing the voice.
This may be a waste of valuable minutes for you in the cold light of day, but at the time we nigh on wat ourselves.
BACK AGAIN, CRAWLEY
Crawley last night was much fun. After a mild concern that I might not remember all my words, I did indeed forget a few but enjoyed covering that up. Some minor tech issues for sound and lighting to sort for today, and tonight should be all super-duper.
A lovely little crowd at stage door made for a friendly end to the night. Crawley was the original preview venue, so it’s half the size of most of the theatres we’re playing, and hence this part was more personal than usual. Having said that, I’m likely to be rushing off quite quickly this week, as it’s a long journey back each night for us all. So do forgive me if I have to be quick. (Certainly tonight I must dash back to catch house guests before they leave, so please pardon if I scribble and run…)
Despite the smaller capacity, the crowd was lively and fun, so thank you Crawley. More of the same tonight. Met with some Israeli mentalists after the show (no, not Geller…) who were just delightful. And a very charming interview before the show: thank you Nick.
Currently stuck in traffic on way to Crawley. if I don’t make it in time, Iain has instructions to go on with an armchair and Sarah The Talking Ram.
Got to Crawley rather early today, after having arrived perilously close to curtain-up the last couple of nights. This doesn’t feel like proper touring, as we’re home every night and not sitting around with flaccid sandwiches and hard licquor making each other cry with laughter after the shows. On the other hand, I’m painting in the days which, as Coops would say, is a ‘tasty treat item from Mummy’.
The shows have been the best yet. This may be helped by the fact that the theatre have a free-for-under-26s policy, which means the theatre’s joy at the sell-out dates must be mitigated by my demographic. I’m hoping there’s some government funding going on to cover them. The other night brought in a raucously delightful A’ Level group, and I believe I got their teacher up on stage, which must have caused great amusement. Interestingly, one little bit didn’t work too well with her: doubtless to do with a lingering self-consciousness that her wards were watching her and may even follow an irresponsible example. Fascinating. For me at least. Possibly just bewildering and disappointing for the thousand or so watching. (Please no spoilers…)
What could have been an underwhelming preview venue has turned out to be a real joy. Just three nights left and then we’re off to Buxton and the proper touring feeling will recommence. I have also been neglecting my book-editing for my paints: this will enjoyably resume too.
Somehow in between these things, I’m looking forward to gettig stuck into Sarah Bakewell’s enticing volume on Montaigne:
and must spend time with Iain working on a new TV special idea: such pressures do not leave me, not even in Buxton.
Right, I must begin my regular pre-show rituals. It is time. They are as follows:
1. 15 minute throat steam into the Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler. Gets the old nodes lubricated. A hydrated throatingtons is a happy throatingtons.
2. 9 seconds of self-disgust at the amount of saliva I have produced during 1, and which now covers the base of the VPSI.
3. Change into first-half shirt.
4. Make-up. Jen doesn’t always get much time, so generally I apply the foundation while she does my hair. This we call ‘helping Mummy’.
4. Clean my teeth.
5. Get changed all proper-like.
6. 15 mins of vocal warm-ups. These would have you lolling out loud and rofling on the floor laughing if you heard them. However, through their ludicrous means, they ensure that a suitable stage-voice is in place for addressing so many of you for so long with the requisite amounts of volume clarity and energy. Occasionally ruined by munching on a chocolate biscuit.
7. Iain comes in to check I have everything I need for the show, and to let me check a certain set of photographs that have been taken for a certain routine in the show. I say they’re fine, and he takes them away.
8. I leave for the backstage area.
9. 5 mins of merry-making in the wings, dancing to own theme-tune with crew etc.
10. Walk onto stage, realising flies are undone.
Time now to begin. Expect a lot of dribble all round.
Wonderful steak lunch at Rowley’s in town and birthday treats followed by the loveliest gifts and more treats from the crew. Dressing room decked out with balloons etc, and some really touching prezzies. On top of that a zillion birthday wishes from Twitter. Lor’ Lu’mme. Best birthday ever. Rather sleepy though: wine and champagne and cake has me now dozing off into my steamer as I type.
One particularly impressive gift was this Derren Brown Enigma action figure, made by Jennie and Iain. Amazing! I do adore my group of friends. If it’s your birthday too, have a wonderful one.
Last night (Fri) was terrific: Thursday’s first half a little under-par mainly due to nervous volunteers. Which can’t be helped, and the second was much better. Tomorrow Buxton!
On the road again…
Sat having a late breakfast at a brilliantly unaccommodating hotel near Buxton. Last night we arrived back after the show for our normal hotel drink and to enjoy a bit of left-over birthday cake, to be told that for health and safety reasons, we could not consume birthday cake downstairs as a group. Neither, for the same reasons, could we order sandwiches. The very stern lady at reception did, however, concede that she ‘understood the high’ that we were experiencing as ‘theatre types’. Fantastic.
Buxton last night was immense fun, and it’s always a beautiful place to explore. I visited Scriveners Bookshop, one of my touring highlights any year we pass this way, and then had weak twee tea in a little cafe, until I had to be at the Opera House. I was happy with the show, and at one point I found myself up in the balcony during the second half. A lovely group came with a coat for Coops made out of Roast Beef Monster Munch packets, which continue to be provided by audience members competing for the prize of who-brings-the-most for Coops and Iain. As ever, entries can be left at stage door, along with your contact details, before the show. Unsure if the coat consisted of the largest number of packets, but it was certainly the most impressive configuration.
One of the delights of a touring show such as this is the ability to introduce little shifts and changes. Last night we discussed a small change to something in the first half which will be immense fun to try out. Went to sleep and awoke considering possibilities.
Right – a tasty breakfast to mitigate the amusing unhelpfulness of last night. Must now do a phone interview to promote a couple of theatres for later in the run: Ipswich and Hull, I believe. Splendid.
After the unwelcoming place near Buxton, it’s a joy to have stayed in the Malmaison on the Liverpool docks (‘malmaison’ = ‘bad house’, still don’t get that) where the staff could not be any more accommodating and delightful. I am assured by a friend who knows someone who knows someone that my particular room was once occupied by Amy Winehouse, which is very exciting. Have searched the room for any trace, but housekeeping have presumably done an excellent job in the meantime. Oh dear, we couldn’t be any less rock and roll as a touring troupe.
Liverpool has been immense fun. It’s a tricky room to play: the beautiful Empire auditorium is set far away from the stage, and sucks up most of the sound of the audience, so it takes a bit of acclimatising to realise that the audience are actually enjoying it. The tiny Buxton Opera House threw back much more noise at me. Having said that, the roar at the end of both shows here was quite something, and, if I may be so fat-headed, the spontaneous 2000-strong standing ovations looked just amazing from my perspective on the stage. So thank you Liverpool, you were spectacular. Some really touching gifts and letters from people, and a warmth and loveliness at stage door which are hard to come by anywhere else in the country. (Having said that, the first night did bring one pissed guy up on stage in the first half, but for the brief time I kept him up there he was pretty funny).
I’ve noted that people are very kindly tweeting in the interval – please do your best not to give anything away that you’ve seen in the first half though, if you don’t mind. It’s lovely to meet so many of my Twitter followers after the show. On that subject, I hope you won’t mind me saying that it’s very hard to avoid offending a handful of Twitter followers to whom I can’t give the individual attention and dialogue they seem to need. It does take the fun out of using Twitter. I’d love to continue using it, as I do enjoy it most of the time, and I hope those few will take a deep breath and use Twitter in the casual spirit it’s best enjoyed in. Thank you all for the enthusiastic tweets after the shows – they make lovely reading and are very much appreciated. In particular I’m very grateful that you’re all good enough not to tweet any spoilers: the show is so much better when you don’t know what’s coming.
Tomorrow we’re off to Bristol, which feels like my spiritual home. To play the Hippodrome, where I queued so many nights as a student, alone, to watch touring opera companies… it’s such a delight. I shall be touring old haunts tomorrow and enjoying myself immensely.
I await my gorgeous crew for soup and booze, and then it’s an early start. I’ve just had a pizza that I should have probably avoided. And my ludicrously fancy suite has a bathtub in the front room – imagine that! To think that Amy probably sat in it, enjoying a glass of wine and watching telly.
Getting very tired. Ner-night, trust you’re all splendid.
I arrived at Bristol to find a note in my dressing room from Dara O’Briain wishing me enjoyable shows with the bright and energetic crowds of Bristol. And he was very right in his description. Bristol is famously a great house to play: the roar when I came on stage was long and deafening, and audience and participants alike were fantastic. The first night it really took me by surprise and I hugely enjoyed myself. The second night, the adrenalin wasn’t there so much and I think I was a little under par, and then the third was good fun again.
We stayed in the wonderful Hotel Du Vin, which kicks the ass of any other hotel on tour. Impeccable.
Friday we went to the Zoo and had a great tour day out. Saturday was tea round at Peter Clifford’s, whom some of you will know from The Devil’s Picturebook and The Heist. Others of you may know my dear friend from his roles in the stunningly good Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory seasons. They’re about to do The Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream in the gorgeous Tobacco Factory theatre where I got started, so do go along if you can. It was a wonderful stay in my beautiful University home.
We are now in Eastbourne. It’s a very different crowd, but the shows have been good so far. A good friend has come over from the States to see the show (and Andy’s Ghost Stories) and today we had a bloating pub lunch in the nearby village of Alfriston, which I may have spelt correctly. Our hotel is a stranger to wi-fi, so I have been slow on blog entries. I type this, as I tend to tweet, face down in a steamer sat in my dressing room.
Excitingly, I am trying out something new in the show. It’s a new ending to one of the pieces that felt like it needed it. It’s really enjoyable to let it settle in and make these sorts of changes. Keeps one on ones tootsies.
HULL, FIRST NIGHT
Last night was especially fun. A day off (Wednesday had been a travelling day from Eastbourne to Hull) always brings a slight scattiness to the performance, which was all part of the fun created by a terrific audience. Eastbourne crowds are lovely but famously quiet, so it was encouraging to really feel the presence of the audience again. The participants too were lively and fun – all very much appreciated. I really loved the show.
It was a real pleasure to meet so many of you afterwards too: thank you those of you who bought prezzies for me and the crew. Particular mention to the delightful Elizabeth who had brought far too many generous gifts wrapped in impressively home-produced ‘Derren Brown’ wrapping paper. Thank you all. And I know Coops was very impressed with his Roast Beef Monster Munch T-shirt last night: an excellent coup, I thought, pun intended.
It is such a sweet thing to occasionally be handed a little prezzie from someone who’s enjoyed the show, but please don’t go over the top with them. Think we’re going to need a bigger truck…
Today I must persevere with TV writing accompanied by the brilliant Iain: some pressure is on to assemble ideas into a produceable format. Together we shall pace my small room and sweat blood until a new nugget of sparkling televisual gold is alchemically formed. Or not: more likely we’ll settle on an idea that seems ridiculous in the morning. I’m also doing a TV interview this afternoon for BBC ‘Look North’, during which I shall insist on looking North. They want to do it in a dressing room, but I don’t think they’ve seen how small the dressing rooms are. I don’t have long to think of a few amusing things to have in the background… false goatees lined up on polystyrene heads, that sort of thing.
END OF HULL
(From the Agingbooth iPhone app. How I feel with 4 months left to go…)
We all had a terrific time in Hull – thank you any of you who came to see it and formed a part of a really sensational audience. We had a great crew in the theatre, which always helps, and the changes I’ve been making to one of the routines seemed to settle in okay. Participants were largely bright and bubbly on stage, which makes all the difference. I noticed on a couple of occasions around Hull that when I said ‘Hello’ to a passing child, they cheerily waved and greeted me back: something that would never occur in the places I hark from. That must be a good and happy sign. It’s lovely to see a cheery, friendly city reflected in the mood of an audience. Thank you all hugely.
One thing that Hull did bring was an inordinate amount of generously chosen gifts from people at the stage door. This was a very lovely gesture from all the people concerned: thank you ever so much. I must, however, ask that if you are one of those few who are thinking of bringing a present or bag of goodies to a future show, please save yourself the time and money. I feel bad taking them: the reality is that it’s just not possible to take most of the gifts around with us, and even bags of the most gorgeous-looking sweets and chocolate tend to remain woefully uneaten as touring does not allow for such a diet. I hope you don’t mind me saying that it means more than enough me that you would buy a ticket or even bother to stand around in the cold just say a nice hello after the show. (On this subject, I know Coops and Iain are starting to develop an abreaction to Roast Beef Monster Munch, but I say keep them coming… they made their bed and can now lie in it, crumbs and all).
After another 5 hour journey, during which some great ideas were hatched for a future TV special, we’re now in Southampton, or at least in an hotel nearby. I’m having a coffee in the ‘brasserie’ of this gorgeous old hotel. It’s rather idyllic, and has a tranquility that will not be found as readily around the back of the Mayflower Theatre over the next few days, with its train tracks and Toys ‘R’ Us. This may be the first year we do not hit the toyshop with the enthusiasm of its younger demographic: previous tours have seen us eager to stock up on soft toys to throw, and remote control helicopters with which to amuse ourselves in the auditorium. Preceding years also saw us staying in the unhappy DeVere hotel nearby, which we all remember uncharitably as the ‘Let’s Get Ou-de-vere’. That’s tricky to make work in print, but you can see what we did.
Staying in so many hotels one after another turns one into a terrible, intolerant twot. Anything other than the warmest reception at the front desk immediately makes every aspect of the place feel unwelcoming, and seeing another teak-veneer desk unit or chintzy eiderdown makes the heart sink unnecessarily. One becomes hyper-critical of slow or indifferent service and far more ready to complain about a poor steak, purely because, through no fault of the hotel’s, one has grown sick of it in previous establishments. Hateful. On top of that, though we really could not be any less rock ‘n’ roll as a touring group (our production manager once spilt ketchup on a white carpet: that’s as mad as it’s ever got), we are usually the noisiest table in the restaurant and often bundle into the most beautiful old converted stately homes in the scruffiest, most embarrassing attire, immediately sending out a message that we may not be quite right for the place. To then catch oneself calling front desk with the back-catalogue of frustration that comes from calling ten previous front desks with the same point of frustration, is to realise that one has fallen prey to the curse of the privileged: expecting other people to have nothing better to do that fit in with your own desires and make your life easy.
The wealthier you are (or the more you get used to staying in hotels on tour), the worse this becomes. As Alain de Botton has said, it’s always the arguments at the first-class check-in desk that are the nastiest. Foul.
Having said that, I’m honoured to be with such a delightful and pleasantly-mannered group. And the temptation to take these hotels for granted is a good reminder to me regarding what we unfairly expect from others.
Oh for fuck’s sake my sugar lumps aren’t individually wrapped again.
It’s the nature of touring that you rarely get to know a city at all, even if you come back year after year. The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton is a regular venue for us: about 2300 strong, it’s a good size and always sells out quickly, despite the huge Bournemouth BIC just down the road where we play later on. As familiar as I am with the brief walk from stage door to the Waterstones in the shopping mall round by John Lewis, I still have no sense of the city. However, I have an inkling of the people.
You can get a sense of a town by two factors on tour: the audience and those people who come to stage door. The sounds and energy of the audience betray the general liveliness of the place (bright, dynamic Bristol goes mental after every routine and roars with approval when the show starts; tranquil Eastbourne sits quietly or coughs), and the amount and style of Twittering in the interval says a lot about them too. Even the local level of intelligence can be broadly gauged by the jokes it laughs most at, and this too varies hugely from city to city.
Stage door is trickier, as it is only the less casual attendees who are prepared to wait around in the cold after the show. Many of these have travelled, but the locals or locally studying are easy enough to spot. Southampton, I think more than any city so far, has provided the loveliest bunch at stage door (competition is high: you’re always very lovely to meet). Only a smallish handful of 20 or so gathered, which is a nice amount of people to take ones time with, and all bubbly, polite, pleasant and relaxed. Some were hugely excited to meet me, but none had the solemn urgency of the too-strongly-fixated; programmes were signed and snapshots snapped in a particularly congenial atmosphere. I was delighted, but not surprised, to hear yesterday from a particularly likeable cabbie (who was rueing the fact that after dropping me off at my remote hotel, he would have to drive back alone through the New Forest in the thick, eldritch mists of midnight) that Southampton has just been voted most friendly city on the UK. (Not ‘in England’ as I tweeted last night, apologies). London, of course, came proudly last.
Tonight is a return night to gorgeous Bristol, and a long day for us all. We must drive to Bristol, the crew must build the show (while I have meetings), run the show, dismantle it and then drive home around midnight. This is the first time back for quite a while, and we get to have a few days off. Tomorrow I’m filming a sketch, and on Sunday night I’m off to the Olivier Awards with my lovely Andy Nyman to lose happily Tom Whitnall’s Morecambe. Back on Monday, in Andy’s home city Leicester, with the silly, upbeat energy that always comes from not having done it for a few days.
Right. Must check the local papers to make sure that the cabbie last night got home safely and was not, as I suggested when leaving the car, slaughtered, bum-raped or both. Hugs.
PS Yes, I know that’s a different Southampton on the map.
RECENT FEW DAYS
Some brief time off from the tour. We all hugged and wished each other excellent weekends, and then disappeared into our other lives for a few days to do laundry, lie in and snuggle with other halves. Friday morning I pottered about the place, noting with amusement the legacy of six weeks or however long on the road: I walked into a couple of things in my cluttered home, having forgotten they were there, and when talking to a friend about going to the theatre that night, kept calling it a ‘hotel’ (on tour one is for ever going from one to another, referring to one or the other; sometimes verbally confusing the two, in a way that sounds very daft when there are no hotels around of which to speak). Around lunchtime I was picked up for filming: I was part of a Kevin Bishop sketch where he was playing his character Darren Brown, my resentful and less successful twin brother. There’s a clip of the character in a different sketch here. I arrived at a delightful residential house that had been lent to Kevin’s crew as a set for the day, and after a few wides, mid-shots and close-ups, we had the sketch done and dusted. As a curious piece of trivia, you might like to note when you watch the sketch, that the house we were in belonged to a Christian family, and the bookshelves (although they probably won’t be caught on screen) were stock full of religious titles (such as Knowing God, which I imagined would be thicker), and there’s a Christian magazine on the table in front of us. None of that plays any role in the sketch, and neither was the magazine placed there by any of us, but if it amuses you to know that these two characters are sitting surrounded so densely by such things, then there we go. The sketch was very well written by, I believe, Nico Tatarowicz, so thank you Nico, and I hope I came some way to doing my part justice. It’s for the huge C4 comedy gala night, which is a live event at the 02 on March 30th, and which airs on TV on the evening of April 5th. So, as one twitterer pointed out, it’s a filmed piece for a live event which will be filmed: I hope that’s clear.
Friday evening I went to the always brilliant Menier Chocolate Factory to watch and hear Hannah Waddingham – multi-award winning musical star, outstanding singer, actress and I imagine all-round Gay Man’s Best Friend – melt and excite us with her excellent, excellent work. She possesses an incredible range: able to sing Nina Simone as Simone would, and then switch to her devastating Send In the Clowns, via Thriller and any number of madly inspired songs (including an awesome rendition of Judas’ belter Heaven On Their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar). Her CD is coming out soon, and if you’ve missed her show-stopping performances in London (I first saw her as the Lady in the Lake in Spamalot), then this will be a great way of at least hearing her work. Her sell-out run at the Chocolate Factory is now over, but hopefully she’ll return, or repeat elsewhere.
Saturday, after a trip to the cinema, I took a group for a fantastic but too-quickly-bolted-down dinner at the River Cafe and then went on to see my co-creator Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories at the nearby Lyric Hammersmith. The atmosphere in the auditorium is electric and it’s a fun, sharp show; scary and well-performed. Definitely worth seeing, particularly if you’re a horror fan. It plays until 17th April at that theatre but I can only imagine will see plenty of life beyond that.
Sunday I started a new painting: a new 5′ x 5′ Judi Dench, and part of a new, ‘straight portrait’ route I’m taking. Sadly I won’t get to finish it for a month or so until I’m back in town. In the early evening we headed off to the Olivier Awards for a genuinely fun night. Jodie Prenger as Nancy (from Oliver!) and Hannah Waddingham (twice in one weekend!) outshone, In My Humble Opinion, some great performers taking the stage that night to sing in-between the handing out of awards. The Mountaintop and Spring Awakening triumphed, and personal highlights were talking to Mark Rylance and his wife Claire (Mark won richly deserved Best Actor for Jerusalem), Jez Butterworth and Ian Rickson (writer and director of the same astonishing play, now on at the Apollo), and meeting Tim Whitnall and the truly lovely Bob Golding, whose hugely acclaimed Morecambe rightly won Best Entertainment. I’m desperately hoping to catch it on tour – details are here.
Monday I painted until the last minute and then nearly missed my train to Leicester, for last night’s first performance at the De Montfort Hall. I was, as tends to happen after a few days off, a little scatty and not quite as on form as I would have liked, but it was nonetheless a fun night. My voice was a little croaky and I found myself reaching for the water more often than normal. It’ll take a night or two to warm the old voice back up again. I had a drink afterwards with a friend who is an art teacher at a local school, and whose pupils seemed to be constituting most of the volunteers on stage. I’m now sat in a very pleasant, empty hotel lounge, feet up; bemused that I have more time to relax when on tour, than I do in the breaks. But I must get on with m’book editing, which is happening piecemeal in lounges like this across the country.
Right, onwards and upwards.
Great second night at the De Montfort Hall. We stayed at a terrific boutique hotel ‘Maiyango’, which was just lovely, and has a great restaurant attached. Worth seeking out. And pop into Alfred Lenton’s next door: an odd gem of a downtrodden second hand bookstore that has been there for 40 years. Also wonderful is The Case, a superb restaurant where we had a truly excellent lunch, and wished the lovely Fran the Happiest of Birthdays. She’s in the picture at the back, all birthdayed up.
Hardly any time to explore, but what a beautiful city. And another terrific audience last night, so thank you everyone. Voice was better too.
Now heading to Ipswich, fattened on a splendid lobster lunch. We’ve just headed off and I definitely need a wee.
IPSWICH AND SOUTHEND
Ipswich brought great audiences. A little slow to warm up on the first day, Thursday, they were lively and forthcoming soon enough, and the auditorium has a fresh and bright sound from the stage. The shows felt good. We were staying in the excellent Salthouse Harbour Hotel, and looked after by a hugely friendly staff. Rather nicely, there were only ten or so people at the stage door each night, all pleasant and unassuming, which meant charming, relaxed hellos and time to chat.
Southend’s first night was fine but did not feel great to me. After a couple of loud houses, The Cliffs Pavilion’s auditorium stretches far back, away from the stage, and the balcony sits at its furthest reaches. It means that from the stage, you only hear the front half of the audience. On top of that, the Sunday night crowd was typical of those from that day: tired from an afternoon’s sloth or activities, aware of work in the morning, a little unresponsive. There is a classic pattern, known to actors and entertainers, of a rising enthusiasm from the house as the week moves on, generally peaking on Friday with a lively and attentive audience. Saturdays can be boisterous, but are also slacker than the Friday, and made up of larger, less attentive groups. Sundays generally are a little quiet, unless there is a Bank Holiday the next day (which will in itself tend to offer another tired and unengaged crowd).
The show was good enough, but I was surprised by the relatively quiet audience and unfulfilling feedback due to the ungenerous architecture, and the strange energy loop that exists between the audience and me on a good night did not make itself known. Pushing to reach the seemingly silent reaches of the auditorium, my voice was also rather cracked.
The second night – yesterday – was much better. The crowd was lively and responsive, and I had got used to the unhelpful acoustics of the room. My voice was stronger and the audience were once again part of the dynamic of the show. We were also joined by our lovely friend Stephen Long who has worked on previous tours, and who has come out to help out for a couple of nights. It was rather fun to see him carrying things on and off stage: such little changes help keep the show feeling fun and alive for me.
Southend proves to be a pleasant place to sit and read overlooking the sea: I am hugely enjoying Simon Callow’s Being An Actor and a break from the laptop. I have not been Twittering or blogging recently either: the former has started to feel a tad exhausting and joyless of late, so I shall for the moment at least give it a little break.
It’s blustery and wet today, and I think the sea looks its best when it’s grey and bleak. Some poor girl in a flapping anorak is running, enervated, along the sea-front through the miserable weather, and a lady is having a dispiriting sandwich from a plastic lunch box on a bench under a beach shelter. All, in a grim, glum way, is right with the world.
Oh Em Gee. What a wonderful two nights. After being warned that Edinburgh audiences would be tough (apparently due to a weariness and over-seasoned-ness following so many fine fringe performers), we had the most overwhelmingly enthusiastic response of any venue. The 3008-strong sold out Playhouse let rip both nights when I walked out and didn’t stop until after their fantastically appreciative and immediate leaping-to-feet-twice response at the end. Many thanks, we were all on a real high because of you lot.
I spent most of the time with the glorious parapsychology duo Richard Wiseman and Caroline Watt, discussing ghosties and exploring the city. And what a stunner it is. A personal highlight was visiting the Camera Obscura up by the castle: well well worth a visit and the finest I’ve seen.
Our hotel was a bit of a downer: Edinburgh lets the side royally down on the normally glorious MalMaison front. ‘Poor Diddums’, I hear you protest. ‘Was the poor telly-welly star not looked after by the hotelsy-welsy? Did he not get the right champagney-wagney in his roomikins?’
Well, it IS a poor sister of the other MalMaisons (no aircon, the wifi is broken and no-one seems arsed to fix it), but no matter there. All that matters is friendliness. We had come from the Roslin in Southend, which is very modest in comparison to the purple sumptuousness of a MalMaison, but was so extraordinarily welcoming throughout. This is such a treat, and trumps such meaningless peripherals as fancy decor. The MalMaison chain is always so friendly too: Liverpool, for example and not surprisingly, boasts probably the most friendly of the chain. In Edinburgh, aside from the few local bar and restaurant staff, the attitude was uniformly sterile. First night after-show conversation at reception:
(me): Hello, can we have a bite from the night menu in the bar?
(reception guy, East-European accent): No, only in your rooms.
(me): Ah, do you have some room where we can eat together? We stay in a lot of MalMaisons and they always pop us in a side-room when they can’t serve in the bar.
(me): Do you have a little meeting room? Normally we’d sit in a meeting room if there wasn’t anywhere else, just to have a bite.
(him): We have a meeting room but no, we won’t do this.
(me): Brilliant, thank you.
And so on. Rather like our similar experience in Buxton, it’s a real shame how all the poshness and carpeted walls and silly tall chairs in the world mean nothing when some member of staff can’t just be nice. I remember fondly the Wolverhampton Novotel last year: a fairly grim hotel by the normal standards, but made wonderful by the most friendly and helpful staff. Thank you, any of the lovely men and ladies who have made our hotel stays so pleasant.
The big plus of staying at the MalMaison, though, was discovering Fishers at Leith, the Edinburgh fish restaurant and all-round institution, which was right next to the hotel. You simply must get your fine, shapely arses down there if you’re unfamiliar. Or familiar. My dear sweet non-existent Supreme Being. Oh. Oh oh oh. Fish soup? Think you’ve had fish soup? Get OUT.
Get to Fishers, have soup, the seabass, have any of it; go see Luke or Eddie and tell them I sent you. And the friendliest bunch! So delightful, in fact, that we invited them to the show and I ended up drinking a fine Barolo back at Eddie’s girlfriend’s friend Fiona’s flat after the show with their gang… a long story. Much fun.
We have arisen too early after a late night to drive to Bradford. The snow on these A-roads is fantastic. But we’re tired. If we don’t make it, it’s because Coops fell asleep at the wheel.
BRADFORD AND SUNDERLAND'S FIRST NIGHT
Bradford boasts one of the finest Waterstones in the whole U of K, and it was a treat to tuck myself right up inside it for a hot choccy and a bally good read. St George’s Hall is a lovely, cramped and creaky old place, but sadly not quite suitable for the show, which looked far from its best. (Many of the important bits and pieces the theatre were supposed to provide were not in place, so I imagine we may switch venues next time we play Bradford).
The audience was definitely not a theatre-savvy one (plenty of getting up to go to the loo and so on), so I caught myself glaring uncharitably at some offenders who were shattering the atmosphere for the audience at the wrong moments by noisily getting up and squeezing past people in their row. Such things don’t affect me on stage, but it’s infuriating to put all the work into the show and then have a few people spoil it for large blocks of the audience by treating it like casual TV watching. You have my permission to throw your drinks at these people if they annoy you. Rant over.
Despite this gripe, the shows were fun. It feels like a very intimate venue and everything went well enough. The audiences were comparatively quiet but I enjoyed both nights.
Went to see Clash of the Titans on the second day, which, despite its infuriating confusion of mythologies (Arabic Djinns? In Ancient Greece?), and re-envisioning Acrisius as Perseus’ father (to presumably help work in the now exhausted Hollywood father/son reconciliation cliché), I enjoyed a little more than Jennie and Iain, who are deeply devoted to the original. Performances not great, but it feels affectionately done and there are some fun sequences to keep it from dragging. For whatever my thoughts are worth on the subject: which is next to nothing.
The huge Sunderland Empire gave us a great first night: still a few boisterous and incontinent audience members but a fun show. It’s a tall place: the people up in the balcony must have been suffering from all sorts of vertiginous nasal hemorrhaging. My microphone died on me and Coops came out to fix me up with a new one, while the audience watched, presumably convinced it was part of the show for some reason. Apologies to any of you for that. Keeps us all on our toes, though.
About to head off for tonight’s extravaganza. What japes. If you’re coming, have a little wee first. Cos we’re now not letting you back in if you go out…
Three lovely nights in Sunderland. Great audiences and a lovely theatre. Thank you very much if you were there. After the fun with the broken mic and a cut finger the first night, the other two went pretty smoothly.
We stayed in the Newcastle Malmaison, which was just fantastic. A bottle of champagne and a concerned letter were awaiting me from the Edinburgh management which had come across the blog. That was very sweet of them, and made me feel a bit guilty.
One of the many delights of the Newcastle hotel came in the form of an unnamed Martini. I sometimes like to request a chocolate martini, asking the barpersonage to make whatever he or she feels fits that term. Sometimes you get clear, subtle versions; sometimes thick gloopy brown lovelinesses. The fun is never knowing what you’ll get. You might like to try it. The talented and splendid Aoife brought back three wildly different versions which we all tried after our late soup and sandwiches. All three amazing. We decided on the brown version, and set about discussing names for the cocktail. I suggested a ‘Brown Maltini’, liking the name of a drink named after me. Understandably, the ‘Brown’ bit felt a little cloacal for a drink name. We couldn’t decide, so I suggested that I might open it up to my bright and enlightened blog followers to suggest a name.
The picture attached shows Aoife with the drink (after I had quoffed half of it), and she has kindly allowed me to share the recipe:
1 half (ah, may be one-and-a-half) shot Remy Martin
1 half (hmm, ditto) shot Kahlua
1 half (surely must mean just half) shot creme de cacao
garnish with choc powder
shake with ice and strain into martini glass.
Very tasty. Not a true Martini of course, of which I am very fond too, but a great, if outwardly girly, treat at the end of a long night.
If you have any suggestions for a name, please email email@example.com; you have about a week to bother them. No guarantees that any of the suggestions will make the menu, as it may have just been one of those 1am conversations that sounded like a good idea at the time. Rather like that small business you were going to start up with a friend. But they’re happy to take suggestions, and they’re the loveliest people.
Thank you, Newcastle Mal. Sting was staying there as well, apparently, which is pretty damn exciting in my book.
We’re now in Milton Keynes and I have my face in a big steam inhaler. Just had the 30 min call. Must dash.
PS I realised that in the blog about Bradford, when I said that in previous years ‘Dublin Olympia kept their bar open too’, it sounded like I was saying ‘as well as Bradford’. Poor and ambiguous wordage on my part, and apologies to St George’s Hall for not checking and re-wording. Meant only that Dublin left the bar open (understandable for what is really a music venue) as well as had people getting up to use the loo, which I had just been talking about. In fact the two go hand in hand…
Dublin will be extra fun this year anyway: a spanking new Grand Canal theatre we’re all eager to see. Ta-ta.
After the raucous delights of Northern audiences, it was down South to a very different sort of place. Again, the energy of the city was reflected in the audience, which is always so interesting: this time quiet and attentive, quite different from the previous nights. I spoke about this with a lovely couple who come to see the show a lot, back at the hotel over post-show booze and soup. The lady, a resident of Milton Keynes, insightfully pointed out that as a new town, MK has no real sense of community, no generation of people having grown up there, and correspondingly there was no sense of the audience as a solid, living entity in the same way there is in, say, Sunderland or Edinburgh where we had recently played. Instead, I felt, the MK crowd were (thankfully) polite and awaited their cues from me: a ‘vertical’ line of communication with little happening between them: little ‘horizontally’, as it were.
Acoustically the room held back a lot of the reactions too, so all in all the first night was a slight culture shock. The second night, as happens, felt warmer (in part, it was, and in part I had got used to the room). The nights were a pleasure to play, and volunteers were bright and fun. I have though been lulled into enjoying attentive and courteous audiences: tonight I am in Belfast, where once again there is a rich and powerful sense of community (or perhaps more strictly, communities), and much more tendency to heckle (not that I get much of that). Doubtless I’ll have a little shock again, and then tomorrow I shall ride it with ease.
I have spent the afternoon with a couple of talented friends from the mentalism world (Belfast’s David Meade and Toronto’s Thomas Baxter), chatting in part about some of the magnificently awful ways the medium Doris Stokes would garner information about her audience. Friendships with some of her touring party yielded some juicy secrets.
I must leave for the Waterfront. The crew have been there all day putting up the show in this massive concert hall: perhaps not aesthetically the best environment for the show, but a great room and a lovely in-house crew. If you’re coming tonight, I can’t wait to see you.
PENN & TELLER IN LONDON!
(Picture by local artist)
Advance warning. You heard it here first. Do not, repeat DO NOT miss out on this one. They very rarely come to London, and they’re the best magic show in the world. Penn & Teller – the eternally cool bad-boys of magic – are rocking the Hammersmith Apollo from 14-17 July. Just a few nights, and it will pack right out. I saw it in Vegas a few years ago with Andy and Coops and we found ourselves gasping out loud and utterly mesmerised. It’s ingenious, funny, heartbreaking and provocative, and if there was ever a must-see in the world of magic, this is it.
Get in there quick, and if you find it sold out, keep trying for returns.
(Picture by local artist)
Heartfelt letter received by our own Phillis yesterday, regarding my portrait of Bush Jnr. above. Brilliant.
Dear Mr. Brown
The disrespect you show for the highest office of the land in the United States of America is reprehensible and the lowest, cheapest form of denigration imaginable. How disgusting that you would choose to interpret the former President of the United States in such a way.
I was very impressed by the caricatures of other famous people, too bad you are so immature. No matter what my politics are, I would never treat the present President in such a way, regardless of whether I agree with his beliefs or not.
Belfast was just wonderful, thank you any of you who came along and packed out the Waterfront Hall with astonishing noise and energy. The response from the house was astonishing, and seeing everyone leaping to their feet in such a huge open hall was really fantastic. Thank you.
We visited the Giant’s Causeway, which, though I’m sure it’s just obligatory school trip territory to the locals, was a lovely afternoon trip. I realised the image I had carried around in my head of the Causeway since primary school was quite, quite different from the real thing. We had lunch at the Bushmills Inn (the whole of Bushmills smells of its famous malt) and headed back for the show.
The shows were very good, but on the third night my voice suddenly became worryingly absent. Two late nights with friends, a change in weather and a long run of shows had taken their toll, and I had to perform the last night with a more controlled tone than normal. This is a huge worry when this happens: keeping the voice strong is always the priority. If it goes, we have to pull shows, which is terrible.
Therefore I was not able to go out for signing on the last night, and unfortunately this will have to be the case for the next few nights until my voice is back to normal. It’s straight back to the hotel and into bed, rest as much as possible and then not speaking during the day. Steam, water, honey and lemon fill my wordless days until the shows. So a thousand apologies to anyone hoping to catch me after the shows: I am whisked away quickly, so please don’t waste your time waiting at the stage door for now thinking I’m still in there.
Hopefully things will be back to normal after a few days. I’ve also had to cancel meetings and interviews until this period passes.
Dublin tonight was huge fun: we were only the third show to appear in the brand new Grand Canal Theatre. Its a fantastic place. From the stage you can here each of the 2160 people as if they were sat right around you. The Dublin audience is different from those of Belfast: rowdier, funnier and very present. They were huge fun and a well-placed shout from one audience member had me and the backstage crew cracking up. So thank you for tonight, Dubliners. Looking forward to the next two.
Apologies again for not being able to come out and sign afterwards. Will let you know how that goes.
Meanwhile I must try to enjoy Dublin in silence…
Two sublime, silent days resting in Dublin. Euro-less, I have not left the hotel (except for the show), but awoken late, taken breakfast at the end of the allotted time or in my room, and shuffled everywhere in my slippers at one-third speed. I have been reading Thomas Mann, drinking honey and lemon, barely existing in a kind of limp reverie, quite at odds with the spirit of this vibrant, rowdy city, whose inhabitants pass by on the other side of the hotel windows with the augmented velocity of characters in a silent movie.
As Ash Wednesday lingers over us, we are forced to take an impossibly early ferry tomorrow morning in order to get to Cardiff to build the show. Last night’s Dublin audience was delightful: surprisingly less rowdy than Thursday’s, although I imagine that tonight’s will prove a force with which to be reckoned.
Rested to the the point of inconsequence, I must dig deep to summon the necessary energy for tonight. Perhaps a quiet little stroll.
Dublin audiences have a certain mischief about them absent in Belfast, and probably anywhere else I’ve come across. The Grand Canal Theatre was wonderful: it has only been open a few weeks in there, and it is great to play. And a long time coming: the crumbling Olympia has its charm, (it’s a unique experience to perform with rain coming in through a hole in the roof onto the stage), but the new theatre, part of the O2 empire, is a triumph. My voice (thank you for the well-wishes) has become stronger, but I still have to be careful to rest it before and after shows.
The final night in Dublin was not as raucous as I expected. The final night was not the best, (a certain punch was lost in aspects of the second half) , but the crowds each night were marvellous, oddly giggly and very demonstrative. There is another unique aspect to performing there: evenings out start late in that city, and a 7.30 advertised starting time, I was told by locals, is taken as 7.30 for 8. Each night, ready and poised to start the show as 7.30 on the dot, we were still awaiting around 600 people. Each night I eventually walked out around 7.50. I’m not aware of this happening elsewhere, and am unsure whether we should advertise it for 8 next year, or whether that will be taken as an 8.30 start… A curious but somehow fitting idiosyncrasy of that very special city. And the Guinness… oh yes.
Sunday morning we left for an early ferry at 7 am. This is what the rest of the bunch look like at that time:
It was a very long day. We slept a bit on the ferry, and got up only to go and watch an advertised magic show on the deck below. It turned out to be a show for the very young kids who, sensibly, would benefit from the distraction, so we left the cheery chap to do his best with them. Although I did consider standing at the back and staring him out for the whole thing. After hours of intermittent napping and trying to get the internet to work, we poured out, onto a a coach, and then onto a minibus that got us into Cardiff for about 8pm. It was a long, scenic route, punctuated by a stop for truly disastrous fish and chips in Aberystwyth. Here’s Coops and popular new boy Jonas at unnamed café:
It was a long drive after a long ferry-ride: we were exhausted and it was difficult to sleep. Conversations, bleary and hallucinogenic, at one point turned to a hushed discussion of how, if we absolutely had to, we could best kill the driver and dispose of the body. Iain, as we knew, is something of an expert on mass murderers, and much of our solution hinged on whether or not Jennie had anything in her kit which would allow us to grind the driver’s bones down to dust. She didn’t, and he was spared.
Tonight’s show is at St Davids: another concert hall, but another guaranteed very good crowd. I’m being spoilt at the moment. Maybe see you there.
NEW PICTURE – “GRAND DAME”
With some afternoons at home, I’m finishing a new portrait – a second one of Dench – still not quite complete but I’ll finish it when I can and get it up on the art site for general availability, prints etc. Brand new easel too: my old one cost me a few quid from a Bristol Oxfam many years ago – I finally treated myself to a great big easel with a crank and everything – just wonderful.
CARDIFF AND WOKING AND COCO THE MIND-READING PARROT
The curious phenomenon of audience identities continues: Cardiff crowds (though I expected a big raucous crowd) were very quiet, but saved it all up for the end. Which was a relief the first night: after that, I knew to expect it. I, to the amusement of many, struggled with audience members’ names and answers, as I did in Belfast and Dublin. The combination of unfamiliar names, strong accents, microphone amplification and the wobbly acoustics of the auditoria made this an unexpected comedy highlight. I do apologise.
Woking brought great, enthusiastic audiences – or rather ‘brings’, as I have one more night there tonight. The house has a resonant, bright sound, which helps the show enormously – it’s lovely to hear every reaction clearly. We have all benefited from a day off and time at home – although my builders have all assembled to work at mine this week, which has made the long-awaited time at home more stressful than being on tour. But hey, whaddyagonnado. Tonight, Andy comes to see the show: he hasn’t even seen it this time round, being taken up with Ghost Stories (transferring to the Duke of York Theatre on June 25th). That’ll be good.
The voice is improving, and I imagine I’ll be back to signing once we get to Stoke on Tuesday.
What else? This:
‘Tis true. Our very own Neil, from the Parrot Zoo, of which I am Patron Saint, presents Coco The Mind Reading Parrot at SkegVegas – the tourist attraction centre for Skegness. Coco has been trained in all sorts of arcane mentalist techniques and presents them to the public for the price of a pumpkin seed and a chunk of finger. Here’s Neil and Coco practising their elaborate two-person code (man on left saying ‘Is it a cup of tea?’):
Expect further updates from Coco as they unfold.
Thank you for your responses to taking part in a new show of mine: keep them coming in. No other questions answered, sorry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for an application form. No parrots involved.
PS Thank you also for your response to the Dench portrait. I did anticipate the request to see it in its various stages: once I’ve absolutely finished it and have had it properly photographed, I will post a little step-by step thingette in case it remains of interest.
DOCUMENTARIES – FROM MAY 10TH
Starting on May 10th, your blogger presents 3 documentaries on C4 under the title ‘Derren Brown Investigates’ (a title I’m slightly unconvinced by but I couldn’t think of a better one). In each, I spend time with someone making paranormal claims, observing their world, looking at the weight of evidence for and against.
There are three documentaries: one with a British psychic medium, another with a ghosthunter from the US, and a third concerns a Russian system of human development that claims to ‘cure’ blindness. Each has quite a different feel.
I have approached these documentaries quite openly: as a magician, and someone steeped in the world of the paranormal, I would love to find something that I can’t explain. I remember a friend at University showing me an apparent demonstration of ‘Chi’ that got me giggly and excited for (more…)
… for such lovely comments about the Dench sequence. I’ll endeavour to do the same again with future pictures. For those of who could see no difference between pictures 2 and 3, there were none: I have now removed the duplicate image. What a der-brain. Nearly left it in on purpose just to provide confusion.
Incidentally, my favourite comment was this:
“This picture shows so much talent, I’m truly impressed. But there’s a coldness to it, a barely perceptible but nevertheless evident sense of unkindness, disdain, superciliousness that I believe characterizes all of the artist’s work, both in visual art & in performance. This may be the sort of thing that will change with increasing age &, one hopes, wisdom.”
(update, few days later: too much may have been read into this quote inclusion by commenters… I included it because its haughty tone made me laugh, that was all. The irony in my statement may have been lost, a common problem of blogging)
BIRMINGHAM AND RUFUS
(Rufus Wainwright by local artist, who is aiming to do a new one of him next, as soon as he gets the chance)
A really lovely run in Birmingham. Warm, responsive audiences (comparatively reserved at the end but hugely up-for-it throughout: a kind of opposite of Cardiff audiences) and a beautiful city. Birmingham has such a pride to it: when they re-developed Bristol’s city centre they did so with no sense of delight or style. Birmingham, by contrast, has become a truly enjoyable place. Found myself staying in the same hotel as Cameron and Clegg following the debates… I suppose I completed the trio, seeing as the other Brown had headed home. Hmm. I think I missed an opportunity there.
Thank you for coming if you did. I understand that some people were waiting for hours in the rain by stage door after being repeatedly assured that I had left (I had to dash off to a dinner appointment): apologies, but please do take it at face value if they say I’ve gone. They shouldn’t ever say it if I haven’t.
Spent much time around the canals, two excellent lunches at Bank, the best hot chocolate in the country (and excellent coffee) at Cafe Vergnano at the Mailbox (there’s one in Charing Cross Rd too, though the Brum one is friendlier and nicer), pottering around at snail’s pace, listening to Rufus Wainwright’s new album on my headphones. The new album – All Days are Nights: Songs For Lulu – is such a beautiful thing. I listen to RW continuously while painting, and am a hugely devoted fan. Last Monday, on a rare night off from the tour, I took group of us to have dinner and see him in Oxford, a wonderful evening. The first half was a sing-through of the new album; we were instructed not to applaud until after he had (preposterously but brilliantly) exited the stage, the second a relative lightening of mood with a bunch of old favourites. Afterwards he appeared to us few invited guests, somewhat distant as he always is, to say a quick hello, mascara in stained rivers down his face, almost as if it were still part of the performance. As often seems to be the case, Helena Bonham Carter was nearby too: I have adored her ever since watching her being interviewed on some awful red-carpet thing going into the Willy Wonka premier, inside which I was already tucked away. One sits for hours before the film starts and watches a broadcast of an endless stream of stars answering inane questions from a dedicated hapless interviewer parked outside, and occasionally a brilliant and irresponsible answer from an interviewee breaks the turgid atmosphere in the auditorium and causes a burst of grateful applause. I cannot remember what HBC said, but she was so brilliantly unruffled by the whole thing, so couldn’t-care-less for any of the nonsense, that her unperturbed answers lit up the sham of the whole ritual’s absurdity. Since then I have found myself alongside her many times, normally when in Rufus’ company, but never said hello. On each occasion I pass by imagining she wouldn’t know me from Adam: then, when I leave, I wonder if she might have done, and whether I had seemed rude. Such are the conflicts of C-rate celebrity.
If you do not know Rufus Wainwright, he is a staggeringly talented singer/songwriter, with a style that is difficult to define, leaping from heartbreaking eulogies to a tragic self, to bawdy high camp, but in the main occupying a perennial, epic, tortured dream-space of self-apotheosis and virtuosic performance. His voice is as unusual as his music, and his articulation sometimes mellifluous to the point of incomprehensibility. For some this proves a stumbling block: equally, the songwriting is unyieldingly internal and coded, leaving me for one pretty clueless as to the meaning of some of the pieces. But this is part of the Rufus experience, and as a devotee of Bach’s equally solitary suites for lonely solo instruments, I revel in such ‘private’ music. Others, I know, just find him whiny and self-absorbed. To me this is like the criticism of Bach as sounding like a sewing machine: yes, all those things, and then some, if you must.
If you’re considering getting hold of an album, I’d recommend Want One as a good starting point, and be prepared for the songs, like anything of superlative quality, to yield their secrets over time. They are not all an easy listen to begin with.
We are returning to the Alexandra Theatre in six weeks or so, and looking forward to it hugely. The crew were one of the nicest we’ve met on tour. And the audiences just lovely. I shall look forward to more dreamy wanderings, having now missed for good my chance to tinker with the election candidates.
LIVERPOOL AND BLACKPOOL
Two big one-nighters: the Liverpool Empire and the Blackpool Opera House. Phwor. Both were lovely gigs, with great, great audiences. Thank you if you came along. I managed to break my mic in the second half in Liverpool, and had to call to the in-house crew at Blackpool to keep the conversation level down backstage, but despite these minor mishaps they were both good shows.
One fun aspect of chatting to the in-house crews is hearing the tales of ‘stars’ who have appeared there. Crews have a huge amount of power, and if they take exception to an arrogant star they can amuse themselves at the performers’ expense. I have heard tales of crew urinating in the rain machine for a production of Singing In The Rain. Of a spotlight operator purposefully missing a famous comedian with the light for the whole show because of a racist comment that was flung in his direction. Of a very well-known comedian defecating into the puppet of his warm-up ventriloquist, whom he loathed, who then had to do the whole act with excrement dripping down his arm. Of course I love asking about the big-name ‘psychics’ who tour, to see if there’s any gossip. In Liverpool, one very famous medium appeared and was spotted by a crew member sneaking in three old ladies through a side entrance (one seemed to be his mum)… old ladies who then played along during the show. Another, watched every night by the same crew, was seen to use the same ‘stock readings’ in every show… precisely the same stories, the same names, the same ‘details’ lazily thrown out to an audience who would make it fit their own situations every time. Doris Stokes would apparently have people come to her hotel for private readings during the day, and then invite them along to the show in the evening, where she would come out with the same information she had garnered from them during the afternoon. I thought that was particularly inspired.
Yesterday in busy, bank-holiday Blackpool I visited Carnesky’s Ghost Train, just next to the Pleasure Beach. Ooh, it’s rather good. I had been to her earlier version in London and been a little disappointed, but this is definitely worth a visit. It’s a scary, intelligent, layered, disconcerting experience. The girl in front of me was proper freaking. Everyone involved does a great job – thank you all those who were tweeting afterwards following my visit. Took me ages to find a working cash-machine, but it was well worth it.
Now some time off. Hope to start a new portrait of Rufus Wainwright. Searching for decent hi-res source material. Ta-ta.
CURING THE GAYS
We’ve been getting a few emails concerned about Conservative candidate Philippa Stroud and her religious inclination to ‘cure’ those who prefer a bit of healthy man-on-man, or gal-on-gal action to the other mixed-sex variants once popular in the nineties. A Guardian article outlining the story is here.
I’m not interested in politics, and don’t wish to comment on this as a political issue. I have, however, attended these sorts of church sessions and even courses which set about healing the ‘brokenness’ of homosexuality. Their premise is that we should be straight, as intended by God, but that when our early relationships with same-sex parents are unfulfilled, we develop an unmet need for identification and closeness from our same sex which is then eroticised during adolescence. Make of that what you will: certainly it’s not uncommon for us whoopsies to have struggled a bit with parents of our gender, but whether that’s a cause of sexuality, or a result of it, or not at all related, is a different issue. Offering counselling, holding courses, and authoring various books on the subject are a number of people once gay, but claiming to have turned straight through the Grace of God, and through healing those broken relationships. When these people are questioned closely, they do not so much as talk about a full ‘conversion’ of sexuality, more that they have learnt to not respond to their homosexual urge (and which they still acknowledge from time to time) and that they have found a place in their lives for a straight relationship. Again, make of that what you will. Certainly it seems to me that if you’re offering the promise of change to people who may (for whatever reason) desperately want it, it’s important to come up with the goods. I don’t believe that it does really come up with the goods, which will come as no suprise, I’m sure. So a word of warning to anyone unhappy in their sexuality who is considering this route. It’s more likely to cause further depression than stop it.
At the time I was fascinated by its claims, and like many people wishing their sexuality would pass or change, hoping it would be effective. Looking back on it, it is of course simply misguided and damaging. A good friend of mine was very active in the movement for years, eventually realised he was not changing, and is now very happy in a gay relationship, having dealt with the ‘guilt and embarrassment’ of ‘failing’, as it inevitably seemed to him. For all that, he has become a firmer Christian, so I wouldn’t presume to say that he regrets his experience of it all. Faith is a funny thing.
I share the distaste that many feel for this. Regardless of how ridiculous (and offensive, if you take offense at such things) it may sound to ‘cure’ gay people, there are plenty of unhappy people – especially, I would imagine, those holding a religious belief – who would welcome the idea of an easy change to being straight. It would be lovely to think that a church at least in part devoted to peace on earth and making people happier would turn their efforts towards the far more helpful cause of educating people to accept (through whatever complex play of nature and/or nurture) how they or others have turned out in life. I’m sure plenty of Christians – even Tories – find such ‘therapy’ quite distasteful, however confusedly well-meaning it might be within the world of the gross religious presumptions it inhabits. I hope that both groups have the sense to publicly distance themselves from this confused and probably quite harmful practice. I read of such things now and shiver.
What a beautiful place. I’d never walked around it before, but this time I had a great stroll around. And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, there’s nowhere other than the Captain’s Club Hotel: amazing food and the friendliest, most attentive, spoil-you-rotten service.
The BIC is a great barn of a venue to play. The audiences were lovely, but the acoustics are rotten for any performer. From the stage you can only hear the front row’s responses, so it took some assurance from Jonas, our sound guy, that the audience was responding with more than the slow, single trickling hand-clap that was reaching my ears. Equally, those of you at the back were VERY far away – I hope you could make everything out that you were supposed to.
It was one of those few venues where we have to build everything – the stage, everything, from scratch, so our dedicated assembly team, and the in-house crew were just amazing. Thank you everyone, it is always a mammoth task.
I had a few days off, and spent them painting a picture of Rufus Wainwright. Miserably, it wasn’t working, so I am going to ditch it and start again: annoyingly, it made me come back to the tour feeling unhappy and unsettled. But sitting by the river here reading Proust and tucking into amazing seafood has perked me up suitably, and the ordering of the iPad (wifi-3G of course) has provided an exciting punctuation point at the end of this little jaunt. Tonight you’ll be aware, UNLESS YOU’VE BEEN LIVING IN A CAVE FOR THE PAST THREE WEEKS, a series of documentaries starts about modern-day troglodytes and their habitation patterns. Following that, your blogger goes about looking at paranormal things. There are but three of these docs, so make sure you catch them. They’ve been great fun – and sometimes gruelling – to do, and I hope to make some more if people like them. I’ve really approached the subjects ready to be convinced and with an open mind (open, but not so open that my brain falls out).
Hope you enjoy them – thank you Bournemouth: must dash now to Wimbledon, there are others that need me.
PS ‘Blue Movie’ – yes, I know. Long story.
Tucked up on a train to Stoke. Wimbledon was a lovely week. The first couple of days suffered (in terms of numbers) from last year’s London run, so the place was not as packed as the other venues. Monday offered a quiet, older audience and, Tuesday a younger, livelier bunch.
Wednesday was our first filming day. It was the best first filming day so far: normally I get a bit disgraced by the cameras and mess things up. As it was, it was a good night. Thursday, our second filming night, was terrific. The crowd was on its feet way before the end and such a joy. Thank you everyone. Friday and Saturday were a delight too: Friday I had family in to see the show, which always makes it a proper treat. The show looked its finest too, as the lighting had been ramped up to its glamorous, previous West End state. Even the nice floor was re-instated. All in all a good week for the show. The TV production team were great, despite a broken generator. When you watch the show (it’s not as good on TV, and we’ll only be able to include about 70 mins of a 150 minute show) please note the plaster on the ring finger of my left hand. I managed to RIP MY NAIL OFF the night before filming. IT STILL HURTS.
In the few afternoons I had free, I worked on a new picture of Rufus Wainwright. This one has taken some wrangling to get right, and now I must leave it alone for a while to continue with the show. But it’s a relief to leave it in a presentable form. It’s at least better than the old one, which I painted before I knew him well.
Those who know the previous work will see a move towards less caricatured images. I’m rather enjoying that. After a break of eighteen months, this is a new direction. When he is finished, I will post it here and add the recent batch (Michelangelo, Thatcher, Dench and Rufus) to the gallery at derrenbrownart.com. I am getting asked how long these take: the best answer is ‘a few days’. I have to do the piecemeal at the moment as I have so little time to dedicate to them. But it’s such a pleasure. I listen to Rufus constantly when painting anyway: I switched back and forth to Richard Strauss, which I think he would like. The new album has hints of Debussy, so he has too been included: some varied sounds have wafted from my studio this last week.
Tonight brings episode 2 of Derren Brown Is Kind Enough To Spend A Few Moments Of His Valuable Time Taking A Jolly Good Look At This And That. I do hope you enjoy. If not, your bum stinks.
STOKE-ON-TRENT AND INTO GLASGOW
A move this year from the Victoria Halls to the Kings Theatre, and it has to be said that the latter is a more suitable theatrical venue for the show. The Regent – an odd, huge, plain, orange cube in the middle of an unhappy part of town – is glorious inside, and boasts a delightful in-house crew (many of whom we knew from the Victoria Halls). The shows were good fun, Tuesday’s being probably the best; audiences were lively and delightful. Repeated disruption on one night from some strange and intoxicated character in the stalls, but he eventually stopped after a telling-off. Wednesday brought a wonderful respite: I spent the day sat in the lovely grounds of our hotel, reading and relaxing. Bliss.
Thursday morning was an early start to Glasgow. Somehow that early start, the drive, Glasgow’s beautiful but sweltering Kings Theatre, last night’s show and concomitant late night have left me with a bad throat this morning. This is always a worry: I have taken the appropriate medication but will have to bow out of signings again until it gets better. I hope any of you coming will understand. Luckily, I have a little sunny break coming up which will, I hope, sort me out.
For any of you wondering, the final DB Investigates doc does not indeed air not this Monday as you might have had every reason to expect, but in fact the following Monday, due, I understand, to a clash with the football on the other side and a live Davina extravaganza being aired on 4. This is not a bad thing: it extends an otherwise very short series, and might fool you into thinking that there were more than three episodes. (The docs have been made in my ‘spare’ time over the last eighteen months, hence there only being three. Hopefully, I will do more, and we’ll schedule time for a full series of six. Or ‘a thousand’ has a nice ring to it).
Ah, Jeff Buckley’s recording of Allelujah has just started playing in this bar. A great version. As is Rufus Wainwright’s, sadly only available on the Shrek album, but whaddyagonnado.
Last night here was a terrific Glasgow crowd, always a huge treat. It’s VERY hot in there. Hotter than the sweat-box in the Pasedena County Women’s Prison. Backstage too: my dressing room is as roasting and airless as the auditorium. Of course, it’s twice as hot on stage under the lights, though I don’t get a chance to notice it. But be warned: dress skimpily.
Glasgow is famous for its great audiences, and this week’s were every bit as lively and demonstrative as any of us could have hoped for. This was made even more astonishing given the temperature level in the King’s Theatre. Those high up in the gallery, and, it must be said, those on stage under the lights, had to contend with almost unbearable heat: the weather outside and the lack of air-conditioning (which they say is on its way: fingers crossed for next year) in this beautiful theatre made for a sweltering experience for many. At least on stage I was focussed on performing the show: those fanning themselves upstairs could only sit and sweat. So a double thank you to all those who came, and triple thankings if you sat upstairs. For me, my dressing room was no respite either. Ugh. I entered it at each interval and after each show, absolutely sodden, to get changed in a similar temperature. The very lovely staff found me a couple of fans (the air-cooling kind, not devotees of the show) which did help a bit.
On top of this, I was suffering from that run-down, coldy, coughy, fatigue which teachers get at the end of terms and performers on tour get when they know they have a break coming up. It’s as if the body senses it can stop holding everything together for a bit and let go. So during the days I was like a zombie: slumped in my hotel room, staring at the wall, trying to sleep, devoid of energy, eating brains. Although there were moments during the day when I doubted if I could manage the show, there is something (camply referred to as Doctor Theatre) hugely restoring about performing, and in fact I looked forward to the show in the way one might look forward to the company of a friend when one feels low. It’s pure adrenalin: once on stage with a show to do, the mind is distracted and the body given new fuel: aside from a shortness of breath and a concomitant light-headeness, I did fine and the shows were all good ones.
I did, however, have to refrain from coming out to sign. Apologies to any of you who were hoping to see me. And again, if someone comes to the stage door and says I’m unable to come out and sign, please don’t waste your time waiting around.
I am now home, to rest and paint a little and then head off to Italy if the airlines allow it. Speak to you in two weeks or so, when it’s back up to Carlisle. And hopefully this time the weather will be cold and miserable.
Been trying to sleep off this run-down state and have had to delay my trip by a day to get better. But over the last couple of days have finished Rufus Wainwright and done a fairly speedy Jack Nicholson:
The Jack is a bit more like my old style. I was itching to paint something and it seemed like fun. It’s much smaller than Rufus – 2’x3′ instead of 5’x4′. I imagine I may tinker a little more with it when I get back from my trip. So far it represents about a day’s work. I have yet to get these photographed and up on the site: I shall do that too when I return.
Right – ‘spose I must pack.
CARLISLE EDINBURGH AND MANCHESTER
After a couple of splendid weeks abroad, we resumed the tour in Carlisle. I was all fresh and brown and relaxed; my only concern that I wouldn’t be able to remember my lines. It’s odd to return to a show after such a break: it really feels as if the tour must be over, that it’s surely done and dusted. As it turned out, thIs slight apprehension helped infuse the show with a freshness which is always welcome, and Carlisle was a good gig. The Sands Centre is a multi-purpose hall, and sometimes the atmosphere of a theatre can be sorely missed. But the Sands is a pleasure to play: the audience responses can be heard and enjoyed, which was a huge relief. Those big halls have a habit of sucking up all sounds of enjoyment and can leave the performer feeling like he’s playing to an empty house. So we built the stage, did the show, and packed it all back up again feeling it was well worth it. And, I have to say, Carlisle boasted a particularly attractive audience. The city seems to be Hottie Central. Whodathunkit.
Next, Edinburgh. This city is famous amongst performers for it’s great audiences (though I would expand that in fairness to a list including Bristol and Dublin), and our last stint there a few weeks ago was a real treat. It’s amazing to think that some 12,000 people in total will have come to see it in that city alone. As expected, the crowd was wildly responsive and the Playhouse itself is a delight. I met with the ever-lovely Richard Wiseman and we mooched around the modern art galleries and through the lush, verdant elegance of the rainy city. On our final afternoon I took a cab up to Fishers in Leith, my favourite restaurant in the city, and had their trademark fish soup, which is to die for, and then the most astounding monkfish and prawn skewers, which were to be reborn for, only to die for again even more violently than the first time. The rain not letting up, I had first visited the unfamiliar surround of a camping shop (titter ye not) and secured waterproof trainers, a suitable jacket and a scarfy thing to protect the old throatingtons. Thus, and equipped with a brolly from the hotel, I embarked upon the walk along the Water of Leith back into Edinburgh. As it turned out, the weather improved and the tree-lined walk rendered most of the rain protection redundant, so I carried the umbrella, undid the jacket and arrived rather sweaty and flustered at the end of the hour walk. I considered dumping the umbrella to ease the burden but couldn’t bring myself…
After Edinburgh, I am now at the end of a run in Salford. Wednesday’s audience was perhaps a little quiet, but then again anything after Edinburgh would sound subdued. As the week moved on the crowd has warmed up considerably. Either way, they’ve been great shows and the Lowry is always a tart to visit. We’ve also got to meet up with Andy, our lovely tech genius from the previous tours who works at the theatre. After Thursday’s show we headed out into Chinatown to take Andy to dinner and had a wonderful night. Last night continued the late-night theme with a crew visit to the famous Canal St, where your blogger uncharacteristically shook his booty on the dance floors of some (perfectly reputable) homosexual establishments. Much cross-gender fun was had by all. We think Coops may have briefly kissed a man. I certainly had my arm around a fabulous drag queen DJ at one point. Jen was dancing with the ladeez and Iain and Jonas were twin kings of the dance stages. All in all it was a fun and daft evening, and not the sort of thing I ever find myself doing.
Awoke, not surprisingly, at 12.30 and am all rested and refreshed for the show. If I can just get Erasure out of my head…
BIRMINGHAM AND SUNDERLAND
Back to the Birmingham Alex and the loveliest in-house crew in the country. It was a joy to re-convene with Mike and Milton and Stu and John and the rest of the gang. We are ourselves a happy little family, though (apart from Simon, our excellent company manager), not a true ‘theatre’ bunch, and when we find a friendly crew it’s a lovely treat that we all enjoy. Very often there is an unhappy relationship in theatres between the in-house backstage crew on the one hand and the management and ‘front of house’ on the other. This sometimes results in the place, despite assurances from the management, not being ready as it should be when we arrive, normally because our specifications not having been properly communicated to the technical people who are to construct the bare bones of the show for us. This poor communication between front and back of theatres is a common frustration to touring shows. The Birmingham Alex is a glowing beacon of how well everything works when the relationship is a happy one and all parties involved enjoy their work and get along famously. Everyone – from usher to management to chief electrician – seems to constitute a true family and it is a true honour to put on the show under their roof. On Thursday night the Alex crew, some of the front of house staff and us lot went out for a late trek round the night-time bars of Brum and had a splendid evening. This was such a treat, and many theatres would benefit from this happy, family approach to putting on shows. (And a particular thank you to Chris at Island Bar who conjured up some sensational cocktails.)
Of course the other half of the enjoyment of a venue comes from the audience. Tuesday night, being at the start of the week, brought a slightly tired and quiet audience: a surprise for this city. Each day, as we moved through the week, the crowd got livelier and more responsive, and of course the show transforms with it. It’s one of the frustrations of performing that you don’t know why you can’t replicate a great performance you’ve had one night with an amazing audience the next night with a flat one. The relationship is of course famously symbiotic, with the audience giving much more than they are aware of. Anyone coming on the Tuesday night, no matter how much they might have enjoyed it, would have been struck by the difference on the Friday or Saturday. If only it were easy to keep the same pace and energy when the crowd is flat… I suppose that’s the challenge of doing it.
Friday lunch time was spent at the house of Judy (the blind lady who featured in the Bronnikov documentary), Marg her quite brilliant helper, and Reg, Judy’s hubby. Marg had prepared a huge spread of food and made trifle and cake: this was the finest treat we could imagine. Normally we have to grab food on the go, or eat soullessly in some hotel bar. To be lavished upon in this way was wonderful. We’re still finishing off the lemon sponge in the intervals.
Then to Sunderland. This was another return visit, and another beautiful theatre. The crowd, as expected, was delightful. High drama was provided at the start: the first frisbee got stuck in the lighting rig on the front of the balcony. One chap who was obviously determined to get involved decided to retrieve it, but to do so he had to climb over the balustrade. He stepped onto what he thought was a black platform but fell into nothingness between scaffolding, grabbing at a pole and hanging for a moment. A resourceful spotlight opera tot had to calm him down and give him directions to get back up. Still the guy insisted on clambering over the length of the balcony front to get to the edge and the star is to take him downstairs. Watching him scaling the crumbling balcony faced was terrifying. It was the first we’ve come to an actual death in the show… Please don’t be doing any of that.
Tonight, after a long drive with Mr Coops, it’s Northampton. Tonight (it’s the interval as I write) has brought an older audience, and between their polite responses and the ungenerous acoustics of the auditorium (which swallow up all their sound), it’s quite a different experience from the North. Plus I managed to knock over a prop and look like an arse.
Ho hum. Must dash for Act Two
COME ALONG TO TV FILMING!
So with two more nights left of the tour, I’m back into TV production the moment I walk in my front door. There are a couple of exciting and stupidly ambitious projects in the air for later this year, and we’re filming bits and pieces for them this week and over the coming months. Some of these segments will require audience members. If you’d like to come along and be part of an audience, please do email email@example.com along with your name, age and address and they’ll get back to you. And I shall very much look forward to seeing you at the filming.
Thanking you x
END OF TOUR
Since being home, work has intensified, and I rather rudely forgot to blog about the very end of the tour. Forgive me.
I believe I left you in Northampton. It was followed by a return visit to Milton Keynes, and then up to Leicester. The audience in Leicester was great. Largely due, if I remember correctly, to a rowdy bunch of students sat in the stalls. Apart from one moment of blurting out the ending for all to hear, this gaggle of girls were a welcome source of liveliness. It was a fun show, though sweltering, at least backstage.
The final night was Nottingham. And the audience seemed to know it: the crowd was truly wonderful. In the audience was Peter Jackson and family, along with Rick Baker, the special FX genius. I was pleased they had chosen to come to such a good show. The final night would have been all-round wonderful, had it not been for the moment in the show some of you will know when I make my way up into the circle. Every first night in a theatre I familiarise myself with the route up from the stalls, but this night I forgot the way. I left the stalls to realise I had to re-emerge into them a moment later as I had gone through the wrong door. I asked an usher to show me the route, and this is where the trouble started. He took me out and pointed me in the direction of the long route up through the foyer, which was not what I was after, but faced with no other option, I left the auditorium again and ran up the stairs. The idea is to appear in the circle before the audience get bored with my absence, but the usher’s instructions turned out to be too vague, and I arrived on the next floor up and faced with several doors to choose from. I asked at the bar to be quickly shown into the circle, and received blank confused expressions, from a staff who seemed to have no idea what the circle was. ‘I’m in the middle of the show, quick, please, show me how to get in’. The bar staff still had no idea. One guy pointed and seemed to be suggesting directions, so I told him to go ahead and show me. He didn’t seem to see the urgency, so I physically grabbed him, apologising, and made him go ahead. He took me though a door and pointed up some stairs and said ‘left’ or something. I went down the stairs and there were two sets of doors. I only saw one and went through, came out when I realised it was wrong and tried the other. Some stairs took me up and I shot through a door into some part of the fly rig (the system of scaffold and beams that hold the lights). I came back out, back to the bar, sweating and yelling ‘Oh for fucks sake’ as i went, and burst through another door. This one took me down, too far down… and I emerged at the side of the stage to see Jennie or Iain looking at me in despair. Another ‘For FUCK’S sake’ and I ran back out, through another door and I was suddenly out on the street, in my evening tails, the door locked behind me and faced with nothing that appeared to be an entrance to the theatre. After a moment’s further panic I found one, and ran into a startled box-office staff member asking how he could help. Thank God this man, finally, had the basic knowledge of the theatre and understanding of my predicament to actually run up and take me to the doors at the side of the circle. I appeared, panting and furious, after what seemed like ten whole long minutes of leaving the audience without a performer.
Of course Peter et al presumed it was all part of the show. If you were there that night, it really wasn’t. What a way to finish.
Iain and I travelled back the next morning with our guests and attended the opening of Ray Harryhausen’s exhibition at the Film Museum, County Hall, just by the London Eye. Ray was there celebrating the wonderful exhibition and his 90th birthday. It’s well worth a visit: I believe it runs for a few months. After some meetings about the television projects I went to see All My Sons at the Apollo theatre, which is the finest thing I have seen for a while. And on the back of a friend’s Vespa pootling through London after the play, it felt like I was finally back home.
We are now all taken up with telly-business. Some exciting and stupidly ambitious projects are underfoot, and they should be broadcast towards the end of the year. I have also, these last few days, taken a moment to peek at ‘Glee’, under much pressure from well-meaning friends, and as a huge fan of Glenn Close, ‘Damages’. The former has largely left me cold (doubtless my failing) but the latter is terrific. I so rarely watch TV so this feels like a naughty treat after so much work.
Talking of which, I must get on. I hope you’re all having nice evenings.
SOME PENN & TELLER TICKETS LEFT!
Penn and Teller – my favourite magicians – are so rare amongst conjurors: they have remained cool in a way that others seem to find impossible. I believe this is due mainly to the fact that their agenda has never been about themselves: they have never postured and apotheosised themselves in the hollow way magicians invariably do. And although they have always been the ‘bad boys’ of magic, disclosing methods and ridiculing the fraternity, they produce some of the finest pieces of magic you will ever see.
As you will probably know, they are performing at the Hammersmith Apollo this coming week. The show is fantastic: astonishing, in-your-face, gasp-out-loud, and very funny. There are some tickets left and it’s well, well worth going to see them. They so rarely come to the UK: this is a real treat.
Tickets can be bought here.
US LOT AT AIRKIX
One of the highlights of the tour this year was indoor skydiving at Airkix in Milton Keynes. This is quite something. An enormous structure which is in essence an inverted wind tunnel, circulating air through a central chamber. Jump in and you’re airborne. We received the essential lowdown from Sean, our cool and perky trainer, and then each got a go in the flight chamber with Sean helping us along. It is extraordinary, exhilarating, and SO much fun. The team there looked after us very well and what you see in the video is Coops’ edit of Airkix’s footage. We’ve spared the rest of the team from having their escapades published, as, well, you don’t look your best when you’re at it.
Attached to our helmets – by which I mean, you know, our helmets – are toy animals, flapping in the wind. Coops has a monkey, I have a vampire bat. We chose well. You’ll see my effort first, then Mr Coops, and then finally me again doing a few tricks after some more practice. OK, that last bit’s not true. Make sure you watch the last section to show what can be done – it’s the brilliant Sean and he’s a living Spiderman. Just incredible. All this has made us very enthusiastic to do a proper (ie outdoor, terrifying etc) skydive at some point, and the lovely people at The Red Devils have offered to host it. Wowzers. Expect more footage when that happens, though more likely of Coops and me wetting ourselves at so many thousand feet. Wheee!
HERO MORNING AFTER
Morning all. Hope you enjoyed last night if you watched the show. I’m travelling home from a night at the Premier Inn at Leeds Bradford airport, where we were royally looked after throughout our wrap party in the affiliated Beefeater until godknowswhen by the wonderful Christian and Claire who should have been home in bed.
Like to think I stayed in the room that Lenny Henry uses when he’s passing through.
I’ve yet to see the final show and hope to catch it tonight. Bumbled through the live links and only had one moment of my life flashing before my eyes when I briefly completely forgot what to say. Not sure if it registered.
Making ‘Hero’ (as all the cool kids call it) was such a joy. Matt is sensational, and I understand his Facebook friends quotient rocketed during the show once his full name was mentioned. We’ve become good friends too. He and Liv are a very lovely couple.
The challenge for us was fitting everything into a seventy-minute show. The changes were manifold and there was much more story to tell. What you see is obviously very trimmed and edited and squashed into the time allotment. Reading the flurry on Twitter last night there was clearly a small percentage people who just refused to accept any of it, which is shame but of course completely inevitable. Some insisted Matt and Liv had to be actors. It’s impossible to please everyone, but I can certainly assure anyone questioning that sort of thing that I don’t use actors in that way, and it would be stupid to do so, as I’d have to find, kill or silence all their friends, families and acquaintances too.
It has been a real joy making the show. So often TV can be a cynical and joyless business, and to do something that feels worthwhile is a rare treat. And to go to such lengths for one person is so exciting. I was and am so proud of Matt, and meant what I said to him at the end.
It has been very heartwarming reading your responses to the show, particularly from people who have taken something personal from it, which was of course the hope behind the project. I chose Matt because he represents all of us. As many of you have asked how he is, he’ll be the first to tell you he’s a happy, changed man and currently sorting out a new place and career options. I spoke to him right after the show and he loved it. And he got over his fear of flying too, just in case anyone thought I had made it a thousand times worse…
HERO – ANSWERS TO A FEW QUESTIONS
Lots of questions have come up about Hero so I thought I’d try and answer some of those I have come across. Thank you for all your comments and I’m pleased the show struck a chord.
You don’t say ‘no actors or stooges are used in this show’ – Was Matt an actor?
I didn’t give that old disclaimer because the show’s chock-full of actors, and quite openly so. I haven’t said that whenever actors are openly used: it wouldn’t make any sense and to qualify it would be convoluted and verbose. So instead we explain who Matt is and that he has no idea these things are going on or that he’s being filmed etc. These things cannot be lies, as aside from the repugnance of using ‘fake’ participants and how on earth you’d secure the silence of those who knew them in real life, it is a huge legal no-no. Every word of voice-over script and picture is analysed by the C4 lawyer to make sure there is no misleading the viewer. A magic trick is different: there is licence to deceive, and a sense of theatre, but even that nowadays is tricky. Its a moot point if you can even say ‘This is an ordinary pack of cards’ any more on UK TV if it isn’t. But in something like this, which is not presented as a trick, to pretend Matt was real, or ignorant of the process when he wasn’t, is simply not an option. Even if I wanted it to be, which I don’t. I have NEVER used a ‘stooge’ (someone playing along and pretending to be fooled etc) in 10 years of TV work, despite the protestations of people who are convinced there’s no other method to be employed.
Adam: On another note, how did Matt get away with not paying for taxi, and just a handshake?
A few people have asked this: I thought it was clear that we had sent the cab. And his life is being changed – some things like this didn’t seem worth spending a lot of time explaining through in detail. The cabbie played it to Matt as if he had just been booked, pre-paid and didn’t ask for any money at the end. Matt, with the idea in his head of breaking into a policeman’s house, took the bait of a free ride and went with it.
Graham: My Gf, a big non believer (but yet believes random psychics and mediums) found it hard to believe the sleeping but walking around stages…. and stormed out. Could that be explained ? was it part hypnosis?
Ah, now if she had seen Enigma she’d have seen me do this every night on stage. It depends on how you define hypnosis, but yes, you can call it that. It’s really not a big deal if you understand the process and can be creative with it. As I said in the show, one feature of Matt’s personality one – an important one for me – is that he is suggestible. He wakes up, confused and responsive, hearing my voice in his room telling him he’s dreaming and still asleep. As long as the person is suggestible and already responsive to me (a fan, or an audience member at a stage show), it’s a very easy way of doing it. If he had come down more awake I would have shifted his state in the garden. I didn’t know for sure how he would react that first night, but we spoke to Liv the next morning and he had had no memory of the event. The second night was then even easier as he had learnt from the first night.
Chris: why in the ‘croc’ sequence was it raining your side and not Matt’s? Also, when his phone was stolen, and seeing he works in insurance, would he not have had to contact the real police to get a reference number for an insurance claim? And, really, he wore GStar pretty much every day for a month!
The brief, light shower that happened that night was a bit of a pain but ultimately looked so odd that we liked it for this dreamy sequence. It’s raining on both of us but I’m backlit and he’s not, so it’s much harder to see the rain on Matt. Rather than edit it out, or re-film anything, we thought it looked weird in a good way and left it. Matt’s phone was handed back to him after the petrol station sequence as if it had been found – obviously we couldn’t leave him without it or have him going to the real police. We were going to include this to answer precisely that question but when you’re trying to fit so much in you have to leave out what doesn’t directly tell the story. Equally, the ‘inspiring’ talk with the van driver was much longer – maybe 10 minutes or so – but that’s not something you can sit through on TV. Things get edited down. As for his clothing, yes, he wore what he wore. It was amusing to us too. He dresses much cooler than me so I can’t comment.
Ben: There was one moment when I thought you had gone a little senile, when you laid him across the train track,
Needless to say, this was all very controlled, unbeknownst to Matt, so there was no way he would have been hurt. What was important is that the fear was real to him.
Matt: i dont care what anyone says if you see smoke coming under a door you would not just sit there, you would at least try and get the attention of others in the room
Nope, this is a classic experiment. Have a Google for Bystander Experiment. The more people there, the less likely you are to take action. The research was triggered by a famous – (if now misrepresented case) – where lots of witnesses saw a woman raped and murdered in several stages and did nothing. Awful.
Penny: I watch all of your stuff on tv as i think your a total genius and would love to be involved so i sent off for an application form to take part in future shows and the reply back is just a trailer for Hero….. help?
There has been a fake Facebook page posing as mine asking people to apply for future shows, but it has nothing to do with us. As with Hero, I make announcements here or on the Blog. (Or sometimes they’re done in papers without my name on and you don’t know you’re applying for my show…)
Andrew: just 2 things don’t quite add up. 1. If he was a bystander that never put himself forward for anything, why would he apply for a game show? and 2. Flight simulator graphics are not very good, it would be impossible to not notice your not flying a real plane…
Bystander behaviour is to do with how we behave in emergencies. Most people fall into the same pattern, regardless of what we do in the rest of life. As for the flight simulator, you’re wrong in this case. This is the latest in professional training sims and utterly convincing (particularly at the dusk setting which is why we timed the flight at dusk). They’re based at Southampton and if you want to pay about 20k an hour you should have a go. Don’t confuse them with noisy fairground sims.
Brett: He got on the plane it was bright sunshine…he landed it in pitch dark even though it was a short flight. Surely he would have thought that was a little strange?
It wasn’t as dark through the sim ‘window’ as it looked on TV. It was all around dusk, and the plane was in the air for quite a while before he would have entered the cockpit. You’ll see when we get off the plane with Matt in a wheelchair that it’s getting dark.
Ian: I was particularly struck by two movie references. When you talked to Matt in his garden and gave him the countdown, he goes to a golf course the next day… this is very similar to a scene from ‘Donnie Darko’ except that the main character actually wakes up on a golf course after being given his countdown while in a dream-like state. The second was of course ‘Fight Club’ in which Tyler Durden pretends to hold up a convenience store employee in order to shock him into pursuing what he really wants to do with his life. Were those parts of ‘Hero’ inspired by these movies?
And then some. The Game, even Watchmen were in there. All big inspirations – especially Fight Club and (for one core speech) Watchmen. Iain and I who devised the show were all very chuffed when Matt came into the garden in a hoodie… pure Donnie.
B: I’m an Airline Pilot for a living and can say the timing between landing that aircraft and getting to the simulator hall where those simulators are base is a long stretch. The cabin crew in the shots had time to change clothes, as did Derron. The sim cued up etc. I just can’t buy into it…would require the guy to be tranqualised no hypnotised due to the length of journey and disruption… other irregularities. A lot of them in the simulator.
Not sure what you mean. That wasn’t live – plenty of time elapsed between the two, with Matt soundly asleep. We were waiting for quite a while in fact for the sim to be fully ready, following problems that day. As for how long he can be hypnotised, the longest I’ve kept someone under was 13 hours on and off a plane to Marrakech for a previous show. Perfectly doable. Matt was looked after in shifts by me, Iain and a paremedic who stayed with us at all times. Both Matt and the Marrakech guy were taken off to the loo at one point, and woke up just a little and for long enough to do that, and then straight back to sleep with no awareness of having done that. They key is to get someone who sleeps deeply at night. Once in the sim he was talked down authentically by a real air traffic controller, and gained in confidence as he went along, although it all took a lot longer than the few minutes that section was shrunk down to in the show. So you’re seeing an edited version in the sim, so yes, it doesn’t reflect real time.
Keren: can you tell me when its going to be repeated as i missed it due to work and am desperate to see it.
Bless you, thank you. It’s on 4OD, which you can access through the C4 website. I have no idea when it’ll be on TV again. Maybe E4?
Claire: I wasnt conviced a guy like ‘Matt’ would actually enter the police officer’s ‘home’ – and not wonder about an alarm system.
He may have done, I don’t know. But at some level his unconscious would have felt it was the ‘right’ thing to do, as you’ll remember I had laid it all in during the night with the crocodile. So I was counting on it feeling somehow right to him. This was about the level of influence that I could have: always leaving it to him to make the decisions, but planting the idea to nudge him in that direction or making an idea appealing. If people don’t understand why he did these things, then they have missed that point.
Jon: the way Matt found himself getting into the ‘situations’ and how he got out of them was very contrived and controlled. And because we didn’t get to see them, we naturally doubt them.
Sure. Of course, a large part of what I do is magic tricks, so some people are going to be suspicious. In my mind there’s a huge difference between performing a trick and doing something like Hero, but that might just be me. A trick is supposed to be a trick, and something like Hero has to be real or else it’s pointless. The situations are of course set up, as openly described in the show, and secretly filmed, but Matt had no idea and could make what choices he liked. I was able to steer him in a loose direction and massage his thinking towards certain ideas, but that was all: they had to be his decisions. The amount of work in securing his well-being without him knowing (the constant checks with work and home and foreseeing every eventuality) would have made a documentary in itself. The lengths we went to to preserve Matt’s experience and make it totally genuine for him were massive. At another level, the technical side was fantastic: the tiny cameras hidden in buttons and so on we needed to film and cover everything the aeroplane, for example, were numerous and extraordinary, as was the airport’s involvement in making the check-in normal for everyone, even though the plane wasn’t really flying to Jersey as it said on the departure board. It was far more involved than, say, the Heist, and some people thought that was all fake too. There’s only so much we can explain without the show slowing down: it’s supposed after all to be entertainment. We could have explained more detail in places, but ultimately you have to find a balance that most people are happy with in the crammed time you have. Again though, it’s simply not an option to have him play along or use an actor, fake the show and then mislead UK TV viewers into thinking it was real.
Mark: You gotta dig deep to understand this and most of Derren’s work. He makes it happen, but ‘how?’ is what you keep asking until you understand how… and without thinking “it was setup” or “the person was a stooge” as thinking any of those two things is wrong. Well you could say ‘setup’ is partially correct if you think in terms of Derren made it all happen (which means there was a setup behind it but not that kind of setup that says Derren just told him what to do.)
Yes, I’d say that was about right and nicely put. Matt’s journey had to be absolutely real, but obviously I’m tinkering in all areas where he isn’t aware to make sure it happens to plan as much as is possible. That’s very different from it being a big hoax or fake. Some can’t or won’t see that, and it’s fine.
How is Matt now?
Excellent. He’s sorting a mortgage and looking at career options. And I’m sure he’d tell you he’s a changed man – certainly in the time I’ve known him he’s transformed and those around him have very movingly attested to this. He was understandably disappointed to have some people simply, joylessly, refuse to believe any of such a powerful personal journey, but the response has been so overwhelmingly positive, and obviously his work colleagues and everyone around him are very excited and he’s buzzing.
As you may know, this has been my favourite show to work on – most ambitious, most involved, most demanding and by far the most joyful. I consider it my fondest and best, and it was a privilege to be part of it and to get to know Matt.
I hope this answers enough questions. I’m sure not all of them, but thank you for posting.
best – dx
‘CONFESSIONS OF A CONJUROR'
It has been a pleasant day. After a private, and unusually delightful, gig in Stockholm, I gave myself and my extensive team of Coops (PA) and Iain (writing partner) the day off and painted. I have been painting a friend, the free-runner and general embodiment of all that is astonishing Chase Armitage (yes, a par-court giant called Chase: living proof of the maxim that after years of primary-school teasing and slow-burn comfortable associations, people tend to be attracted to careers which suit their names.) Following that I visited an artist friend Patrick Hughes, and had my head cast in plaster in order for a reverse-sculpture of your apologetically infrequent blogger to be created. It’s a little difficult to describe, and I shall blog the results along with the pictures that were taken along the way, but imagine a portrait which, through a compelling trick of perspective, unfailingly shifts and turns to follow you around the room.
I thought I should also drop you a line about the new book, Confessions of a Conjuror which will soon be piled high and wide deep within those warehouses of Amazon, sometimes glimpsed on the way to Swansea, and prominently displayed in the erotic poetry section of Waterstones, whichever you prefer. As an ardent Amazon-hound and a loyalty-card-carrying lover of all things Waterstonian, I wouldn’t be able to decide. Every couple of years or so I seem to get a month or so put aside to concentrate exclusively on ‘breaking the back’ (or at least bending the spine) of a new book, and it’s quite the finest part of that particular two-year period. I can, without guilt, spend my afternoons in the cafe across the road, guzzling cappuccini (with or without a panino), forgetting the cares of the rest of my career and ruthlessly clicking any TV-related phone-calls to answer-phone where they are left to rot and die. It is an unmatched pleasure to live that life for a brief period, to wear clothes that are beyond squalid, to daily secure ones favourite table by the window and for there to be, for the time at least, no deadlines or pressure.
No pressure because one cannot write a book in a month, so the spread of the upcoming tour is always there to supply ample time to get within sight of the end and get ready for the far-off and very comfortable delivery-date. On tour it is again a delight: the show is up, running and well-received, so what could be nicer than spending ones days discovering further glorious cafes around the country or tucking oneself away in a hotel bar until the time comes to show up and show-off on stage? Bit by bit, the book is fleshed out in-between shows, and then, if a West-End run follows, frantically during the days at home or even – bliss upon bliss – lengthways upon the dressing room sofa, lemon and ginger and honey brew an arm’s reach away. (more…)
FINNISH VERSION OF TRICKS OF THE MIND JUST ARRIVED.
Google translates the title as ‘How I Control The View’.
AFTER 6 YRS, HAVE A PARROT AGAIN
Little Quaker, no name yet. Adorable: here he is nibbling Coopy’s lady.
EDIT: Great names, thank you. We have a winner: RT @baquetaUk How about Rasputin?
On BBC4 tonight at 9 there is a programme about self-portraits. Featured in it is my dear friend Patrick Hughes, who creates astounding reverse-perspective paintings/sculptures that appear to move with you as you walk around the room. I have a few of his pieces at home and it is delightful watching visitors unable to fathom what they are experiencing. He has recently cast my little head for a ‘reverspective’ portrait, and has also done one of himself, which will appear in the BBC4 show. Mine, I hear, is ready too, and I’m picking it up from him tomorrow. We’ve in fact done a portrait swap: I am painting him in return for his portrait of me. I’ll feature both on this blog – including the pictures of me getting my head cast – when I have everything ready to show you. He is the most richly wonderful man, and a unique artist, so do catch the show tonight if you can to get a heads-up (pun intended) on this guy.
HEADS-UP ON A FEW THINGS PROBABLY COMING OUT
Subject to all sorts of possible changes, the following goodies (or baddies, really depends) are planned: the ‘Enigma‘ show should be broadcast (in it’s 3-hours-squeezed-into-one-and-a-half form) around mid-December, and hopefully in early January, a documentary about my good self will air for those who enjoy such things, alongside a broadcast of the most-voted-for-fave-special (you can vote, I am assured, here). My oldest pal from school (now a multi-award-winning filmmaker) was approached, quite by coincidence, to make the documentary, and it’s deepened our friendship and been a real joy exploring some nostalgic avenues together.
Also, in January, I’m quite excited that they’re planning to release a box-set of the stage shows (at least the ones that made it to TV). So Something Wicked, And Evening of Wonders, and Enigma will be all nicely packaged up for your DVD delectation. Imagine! What larks.
As you may know, I’m writing the new stage show, Svengali: the long and short of it is that we rehearse next January/Feb for the tour that starts in March. And somewhere in there we hope to film a new special, though when that will make the screens I have no idea.
Um, that’s it for now. Today I’m drinking tea and painting Patrick Hughes and I’ll show you that and the little story around it when it’s done.
PATRICK HUGHES AND THE PAINTING SWAP
Patrick is a remarkable and deeply fun artist: his works are hard to describe but I shall do my best. In fact, watch this wonderful three-minute film here and you’ll get the idea. They play with our eyes and minds and make us actively participate in the works. His pieces lunge out of the wall at you but you cannot tell as the perspective is painted in reverse… so that a bookcase or a line of Venice houses appears to recede into the distance but is in fact painted upon a trapezium that narrows as it approaches a vanishing point that is in fact struck right out in front of the picture. The effect is an image that appears to physically shift with you: when you pass it, it follows you. I have a few Hughes pieces in my flat: visitors can be seen stopping in their tracks before the first they encounter, swaying from side to side, bobbing up and down. Without exception they cannot tell how it works: they think they’re watching a clever projection until they step around to view the side of it and its three-dimensionality pops into apparentness and they all but drop their drink in disbelief.
Patrick is also a dear friend: his charisma and generosity strike everyone who has the delightful experience of meeting him. He’s seventy, handsome, impressively tall, dresses impeccably in bold, colourful suits and long scarves, and wraps his deep intelligence within a joyous playfulness that is reflected in the range of optical toys and jokes that fill his eccentric flat. He’s a lovely, lovely man, and a radiant example of how I and anyone should hope to be at his age.
I heard Patrick was applying his ‘reverspective’ approach to portraits. Some of you may be aware of the ‘reverse mask’ illusion where we look into the back of a mask and still think we are looking at a face pointing out at us. I have the Einstein head (as mentioned in The God Delusion) and other pieces that work on the same principle. Here’s a delightful old video of Richard Dawkins demonstrating the illusion:
The face variants of this sort of perspective trick work especially well on me. Whereas most people cannot see the ‘true’ nature of Patrick’s pieces and can flip back and forth with hollow faces, I am the exact opposite. So I was excited to hear that Patrick had cast his own face to make a ‘reverspective’ portrait of himself, and we spoke about making one of me. Patrick suggested a portrait swap: one of his of me for one of mine of him. This was hugely flattering and exciting.
It was my turn first: I headed over to Patrick’s studio in east London to be photographed and cast. The pictures tell the story:
Patrick’s studio – you can see his portrait between us in the background.
His colleagues cut a sheet of cardboard to accommodate my unusually chiselled features:
And I don a swimming cap which will stop my hair from getting plaster in it. I think this was the only expression I could make with the cap on:
Vaseline applied. At this point I’m starting to get aroused.
And I’m just going to presume those are drips from the plaster process.
I actually found this quite relaxing. Same way i quite enjoy the dentist: something about not being able to move or do anything, I switch off well and go to my happy place.
Patrick thought this would be funny. Had no idea he had done this until I looked back at the photos:
The removal begins. I gesture for a pen and paper and write the following plaintiff note:
It fucking did.
Gin and Tonic, I think. A look inside the cast, and the illusion is already working:
Time then passes. I photograph Patrick to do my own portrait. After a couple of weeks I receive news that the portrait is complete. I head over to see it, but first Patrick’s partner, the writer and equally gorgeous specimen of humanity Diane Atkinson, prepares an excellent supper. Patrick shows me some of his new toys, including a ‘true mirror’ which shows you as you actually, genuinely look (instead of in normal mirror-image as you can only ever see yourself). It’s a disturbing experience. I order one for myself that night: you can buy them here.
The finished, painted portrait is astonishing. Ironically, it does show me in mirror image: it’s a logical result of the casting-and-reversing process that the finished piece offers a flipped version of the subject.
It now sits in my library – it needs flat, soft light to work at its best. Whenever I walk past it, I see it pay close attention and watch my every move.
Video doesn’t quite capture the real-life effect. The movement is bigger, clearer, and so inextricably linked to one’s own movements that it’s a very eerie experience. But here’s a look at it:
And in a separate post – most likely tomorrow – I’ll set out how I painted my own portrait of Patrick. Ta-ta for now.
MY PAINTING OF PATRICK HUGHES
At last a moment to post on Patrick’s portrait. As you may remember from a previous post, Patrick made a “reverspective” portrait of me, and I have painted him, in order to do arty swapsies. The painting is large, as most of mine seem to be – this one, in acrylic, 5ft high by 4ft:
As some of you seem interested in how these come together, I took a few photographs of the stages along the way to show you.
COOPS' CHARITY MOUSTACHE
Coops, like my mother and many more of you, has embraced Movember and grown quite the handsome pair of lovelies under his nostrils. It is soon time for him to divest himself of the hairy stripes and once again resemble the baby chimp we have known and loved for so long. Will you donate something towards the Prostate Cancer Charity before he cuts, shaves and moisturises tonight? If you’d like to do this, you can do so here, and your personal level of happiness will be raised by a tiny but important fraction after doing something so kind.
Thank you, please carry on.
CAN YOU HELP?
A friend has had her car and two gorgeous dogs stolen in Worcester: can you help?
“CAN YOU HELP FIND 2 MISSING PUPPIES?
LARGE CASH REWARD, NO QUESTIONS ASKED!
A chocolate and red coloured smooth hair miniature daschund 7 months old, male dog, wearing a chocolate brown leather and brass collar,
and a brindle coloured wired hair miniature daschund, also 7 months old, male dog are missing… Can you help return them to their family?
The puppies were in the back of a blue Land Rover Defender, registration number: 888 DAX, which was stolen from outside St Peter’s Church, Worcester Road, Bromsgrove on Thursday 6th January 2011, whilst the owner was attending a funeral. It’s likely the thieves didn’t know the dogs were in the back of the car.
The puppies were in a white wire dog carrier, approximately 28″ x 28″, with a pillow and dog blankets.
The dogs are well looked after and from a very loving home, and are desperately missed by their family.
LARGE CASH REWARD is offered for information leading to the return of the dogs. NO QUESTIONS asked about the theft of the car or other contents, the family just want their dogs to come back home.
If you have ANY information about these two puppies, or the white wire dog carrier please send a facebook message or post on the wall of this page.
Or if you don’t want to leave your name and details, please contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or the RSPCA national hotline on 0300 1234999.”
MY NEW ART SHOW
From the 24th February until the 12th March, your infrequent blogger has an exhibition of his more recent portraits at the Hossack Gallery, 28 Charlotte St, London. It’ll be a small show – perhaps six or so large pieces, for sale if you wish and general perusalment. An online gallery of my paintings – mainly the earlier caricatures – is viewable online at derrenbrownart.com, where prints are for sale if you are considering a gift for a least loved relative.
For those of you who are talented and attractive enough to follow me upon the Twitter, you may have seen I’ve been tweeting a work-in-progress of my father in real time as it comes together. The plan is to include this and one of my mother, as well as some of the recent ones I have posted on this here blog.
Some of you do enquire very kindly about buying originals. I sell the originals through the Hossack Gallery and I’m sure they’d be delighted to take any enquiries. They are big though (the ones above are each five feet high), so you’ve got to REALLY want one in your room.
Any enquiries about the art show, please call the gallery on +44 (0) 20 7255 2828.
Thanking you kindly.
NEW PAINTINGS FOR EXHIBITION
Well, that’s how you’d look if you were as overworked as me at the moment. Three new large acrylic-on-canvas portraits – my Mother, me, my Father – ready for my exhibition at the Hossack Gallery, Charlotte St, central London. They look after my paintings and sell prints and originals for anyone who has the wall-space and the stomach to want one at home. The exhibition runs from Thursday (Feb 24th) until March 12th. Details are here.
The self-portrait has been tricky, and involved a complete false start. I realise it may not be the image of quite the sparky so-and-so that you know and love… but hey, things don’t get more introspective than self-portraiture and I find this more interesting. And yes, that’s a more honest representation of my hairline once the very kind make-up artist has removed her handiwork after filming. I’ve been tweeting them as they’ve come together over the past few weeks, which has been much fun. And difficult in some ways: it’s normally the case that I wouldn’t show anything until it was ready.
After many fun years, I’m going to close down the derrenbrownart.com print-sale site and gallery, and hand over all sales and management to the Hossack Gallery. Aside from the originals, they will most likely only sell a very limited range of high-end Giclée prints, so if you’ve been thinking of getting a less expensive digi print, or any style of print of a particular portrait, it might be worth browsing the art site in the next few days while it still exists and they’re still for sale. Meanwhile a small gallery of some of the caricatures from that site along with new paintings will soon be viewable on my main site (www.derrenbrown.co.uk – part of which you are currently reading). And any new paintings will be posted, as they appear, on this blog.
Right! That done , I must use the rest of my Sunday to sign off the Faith Healer documentary special and work on the Svengali script. We open soon. Eek.
TA TA TWITTER FOR TOUR
I shall, just whilst touring, sign off from Twitter. There are a few needy souls there who step up into frenetic activity at tour time and can cast a dark cloud over the whole thing: I find they’re much nicer to meet without a flurry of desperate messages before and after. Twitter sadly does them no justice.
The blog shall of course continue to feed through, and I shall most likely post upon it, now and then as we go along.
I look forward to seeing some of you on the road, and must gently ask again that people don’t turn up bearing gifts, as some regularly do: they’re very hard to keep hold of when we’re touring and you spending your money on tickets is more than super-kind and embarrassingly generous enough.
Right, Woking awaits. Last night I realised a minute before going on that I was wearing ridiculously striped socks. I had to change socks with Coops. This is not a good thing: he has a famously adventurous approach to foot-hygiene. Luckily, my magical powers were not too deeply affected.
Today I have chosen more carefully.
TOUR SO FAR
Well. Here we are. Thank you and hello and yes. About a million years ago, (when there were pirates and dinosaurs, as a friend’s young son cutely pointed out the other day) we opened in Brighton. Madly and with great delight. I switched off Twitter, missed a funeral I desperately wanted to attend, and set about trying to get the show ready for the first preview night. Weeks of exciting 7am – 1am work days and increasingly intense rehearsal spiralled blindly towards the first moment when I would step out and try, for the first time with real people, a show that cannot begin to work without real people taking part.
The first preview was a relief: it always is to receive a lovely reaction and a standing ovation to material that has never been performed before. Nonetheless there was much to change and reconsider, and material was dropped, swapped and kicked into better shape. Polly Findlay, my new director, is a complete poppet and a huge delight. Some of the team is new too: Iain and Jen are not with us this year and have been replaced by a couple of new, brilliant, lovely chaps. It’s a happy bunch, which is very important to me.
Brighton previews over, we opened the official tour in Woking. Now it was time for the show to really get up to speed and find its pace. There’s a tendency, as I don’t work from a tight script, for parts to get fleshed out inadvertently and for the energy of the whole thing to sap. Over this week and the next, In Liverpool, over twenty minutes got added to the show for no reason other than me letting parts sag here and there as I became more comfortable with it. Since then I have done some important reign-pulling and tightened it again. We had some technical difficulties in Woking, and learnt a few valuable lessons, and then heaved ourselves to Liverpool for a week with that most bustling, fun, splendid of audiences. Another brilliant in-house crew looked after us: we’ve been really spoilt so far with excellent theatre teams. It’s a big, heavy set this year to get in. The early shows packed into the back of a van: now we have two juggernauts to house all of our walloping nonsense.
Liverpool was great: the audiences and volunteers a real treat. We finished Liverpool on the Saturday and had to set up in Grimsby auditorium for the Sunday, something which turned out to be beyond our capabilities. At the time we would normally let in the audience, the crew were still building the set. It was ninety minutes late that we opened the house, to, I must say, a remarkably friendly crowd. The venue is a multiple-purpose hall and like many of those venues, you can’t hear the audience from the stage. So I came out fearing that we’d lost everyone’s goodwill, and then trotted through the opening routine to what sounded like four people barely paying attention. It took me a while to trust that people might actually be enjoying themselves. Meanwhile, the desire to make up on lost time helped me knock the pace of the show back into place.
Everything that could have gone wrong the afternoon of that show found its way to spectacularly fail. In a theatre, a huge rig is lowered to the stage and all our lights and headers and things we need to hang are hung accordingly. A hall like Grimsby Auditorium does its utmost to accommodate, but has no such rig: therefore everything has to be hoisted with motors. We broke both of their motors. One of our drivers had got waylaid on the way to the venue through no fault of his own and everything turned up late. The day was one of horrific turmoil. It was only due to the dedication of a profoundly patient, skilled and tireless in-house crew that the show went up at all.
The second night at Grimsby was, of course, super-smooth in comparison. But then the show had to be taken down and packed into those trucks. It was only a two-night run (most are a week or more). Jonas, our sensationally loveable sound and lighting guy, stayed on until the end, which happened at 4 am. He was then up at 7.30 to head down to Southend where we play tonight. Another colossal challenge for everyone involved. Apart from me. The Star. I get to nap and write up my blog…
There has been time for fun. In Liverpool I caught up with my A Level teacher from Whitgift, who is now Headmaster of Birkenhead School. And what a school, and what a headmaster. I went in to be interviewed as part of their quite excellent series of sixth-form lectures – and am sure I dropped the standard having had nothing prepared. Two top prefects – Josh and Tash – kicked off the questions and the whole thing, for me at least, was a pleasure. Afterwards the prefect team of Josh, Tash, Ed and Tom showed me around the beautiful campus. Not for the first time in recent years, I was bowled over by how much nicer pupils are now than when I ranked rather scrawnily amongst their number. How trite it is to complain about the youth of today being such and such and so and so. It’s the automatic, mindless cry of every older generation seeing a landscape of language and culture shift beneath its feet. Kids are without doubt getting nicer. There wasn’t a hint of the snickering shittiness of the class of ’89. I felt like I was meeting university students: already matured, comfortable in themselves, open, tactile, utterly charming. We were NEVER like that. And I have seen this at several schools, although I have no doubt that the residency of John Clark as Head is part of the formula for this school’s particular brand of delightfulness. As a Modern Languages teacher he was always brilliant, bright and effortlessly popular. As a Head he is hands-on, knows all his wards by name and interests, is every bit as popular, and motivated by a deep affection and pastoral urge that I found quite moving. Thank you everyone at the school for making the day such a treat for me.
From the sublime, to parrots and monkeys. Yesterday I went to visit the National Parrot Sanctuary and Zoo in Friskney, near Skegness. I am, as you may know, their Patron Saint. The big news is that they have expanded into monkeys. Any lingering stresses of Grimsby’s first night were lifted the second our shoulders were occupied by huge, friendly Macaws or glorious lemurs. All these animals are rescued, and populate the largest sanctuary of its kind on the planet. Or maybe Europe. I should check. Steve, who runs it without a break, is the greatest expert on parrots in the country – maybe Europe or the universe – and still, after twenty years of running the place, is fuelled by the most contagious passion for understanding the creatures. To listen to his stories is such a pleasure: how one night he sat outside with a glass of wine while a lone African Grey pierced the moonlight with an aria from some previous owner’s favourite opera; how he stood in an aviary and made repetitive clucking noises as part of a test to see how quickly a new sound would be picked up and disseminated amongst the bird community, only to be greeted with an extended stony silence followed by a single ‘Shut the fuck up’ from the ranks of anonymous Greys.
Coops and I were allowed into the lemur house with a dish of raisins. How extraordinary it is to have a creature with opposable thumbs feed from your hand. They don’t grab the bounty from your palm as expected: these glorious, friendly, spirit-lifting bundles of highly attentive fluffiness reach out and grab your wrist and pull your hand closer, and don’t let go until they’re done.
Delights and wonders. Do go see the zoo if you’re anywhere near that part of the world. Unlike any other zoo, where the animals pace or lie bored in a corner, here you walk past and through aviaries where the inhabitants flock to you and beg your attention with a thousand sweet hellos. You leave soaring: every bit as daft and weightless as they are.
NEW DERREN BROWN TV SPECIAL
On Easter Monday, April 25th at 9pm, my new special DERREN BROWN: MIRACLES FOR SALE will air on C4. This is hot off the press, so I have no artwork to show you as yet.
This is the special about faith-healing that some of you will have heard about. It has been the most intensely difficult project that I have attempted: to train an ordinary member of the public as a faith healer, then take him out to Texas, the heart of the Bible Belt, and try to pass him off as the real deal. We filmed this at the end of last year amidst concerns that we had bitten off far more than we could chew.
The film we made is driven by a desire to expose what I consider to be a foul and dangerous fraud at the expense of the sick, the needy and the faithful all over the world. It is not a comment on the church, or belief, or even, before some people get upset, the idea that God can or can’t heal. It is about a specific fraud, a greedy trick that has nothing to do with God whatsoever, beyond the fact that his name gets shouted around a lot. We made the show with the involvement of Christians and pastors who had been involved in that particular scene.
WEEK IN OXFORD
I’ve just come to the end of a wonderful week working on changes to the show. This is something which we always do with the tours: the joy is to keep improving and changing and getting it as good as possible. Andrew O’Connor, one of the producers of the tour came over from LA to work on it with me, and Polly and Stephen came up too. We’ve spent each day rehearsing and talking and trying out new things each night. Some of the changes are quite small, others are large: it’s been like being back in previews in Brighton.
The last couple of nights we’ve made big shifts with the very end, which has been hugely exciting. The changes seem to have worked: the audience reactions do appear to be getting better and better. We’ve been doing notes after the shows until 2 or 3am, then up again for breakfast work, all-day rehearsals and then of course the shows in the evening. All that work has ended today and tomorrow we’re off to Sunderland for some relative peace and rest. Sadly this work has not left me any time to explore Oxford: such a beautiful city and somewhere I would happily come to live. But the audiences have been bright and gorgeous and the theatre an absolute dream. After the show, a lovely chat with Nicholas Hoult and his lady Jenny, who had graced the auditorium along with Doug Hodge and his wife Tessa Peake-Jones: my first celeb visits of the tour. Very exciting. Though I wasn’t entirely happy with the show as a stupid technical problem with the new ending upset the rhythm of things at a vital moment… but hey, whaddyagonnado.
Before Oxford we all had a great week in Norwich. The highlight was most likely us all heading to Adam Buxton’s farmhouse for lunch with him and his wife Sarah: you’ll be delighted to know that the afternoon began with Sarah’s exquisite food and finished with Adam showing us silly movies on YouTube. They are a glorious, generous, bright and brilliant couple.
You may also be interested to know that my friend Patrick Hughes has a new book for sale, entitled Paradoxymoron – click here to view. It was at the launch for this book that Alexei Sayle came over to speak to me. I’ve always been a fan of the great man, who was wearing a black suit and shirt: I plucked a white hair from the front of said shirt as we spoke to find that it was joined to his chest. Great one, Derren.
My Highland Park has run dry and I must get to bed. We’ve been staying at the Old Bank Hotel in Oxford and I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such astonishingly brilliant staff. It’s a terrific hotel, and we’re all hugely grateful to the entire team for making this stay such a pleasure. Thank you.
Right, nighty-night. Can’t wait for the new changes to bed in and feel second-nature. And I hope you like them too. Sleep well. I have just a few hours to try to do the same.
PS the picture of me was taken in Cromer by Dennis Grasse, a member of our team who is a great photographer. If you ever find yourself in the greenroom of the National Theatre, those are his on the wall.
THROATS AND FLOATS
Losing The Voice. The fundamental fear of any touring performer.
After a week in Oxford working and rehearsing 10am-3am for a week, and then shouting every night with barely an evening off, the voice started to suffer. If it packs in, we have to start pulling shows, which is a nightmare to be avoided at all costs.
The first casualty is the signing queue. A few years ago, there were never more than fifteen or twenty people at the stage door, sometimes only four or five. Now there are normally seventy to a hundred lovely people who have decided to hang around in often freezing or rainy weather conditions to say hello and have me scribble illegibly on their programmes and/or chesty-parts. Already I’ve noted with sadness this year that this means I can’t spend the relaxed time I previously enjoyed chatting with people after the show: to get through so many people means something of a conveyor belt of scribbling and asking people to take photos as we go along rather than stop. On top of this, the tour schedule is relentless and with several 6 am starts, so the pressure is on to get back to the hotel and wind down and get what sleep might come my way.
So there were a few nights when I was unable to come out and sign, and there will be a few more on tour, I’m sure. I know it makes no difference to anyone who comes on a rare night that I can’t come out, but rest assured I do make more of an effort than most performers to spend time at stage door after a show. Most, sadly, devise ways to avoid people completely. I hope that in a run of around a hundred and fifty shows I’ll be forgiven a few where health issues dictate I have to sneak away to a warm bed.
Now some of you may remember the chocolate martini fun from last year in Newcastle. This year on arrival, I was greeted by the Mal Maison with Chris (the bar manager’s) latest version of what I now like to think is something of a classic. So top marks to them. The George Shaw exhibition at the Baltic in Gateshead (apologies for considering it to be Newcastle on Twitter) was just stunning. It may still be running. Running and stunning. Edinburgh provided the usual bright, lively and gorgeous audiences that it’s known for. The huge Playhouse was packed out every night and was a particular joy. I met up with my pal Richard Wiseman and had an excellent lunch at the Café Royale, which, I decided, is where I would spend every afternoon if I lived in Edinburgh. What a great city. I also bought there my first cravat. After a few weeks of tucking my scarf inside my shirt and quite liking the foppish look, I am now the proud bearer of a spotty, sporty number. It’s my ‘thing’, I’ve decided.
‘Derren Brown? Who’s that?’, people will ask. ‘The cravat guy’, others will answer.
Getting to Scarborough with our massive set and trying to get it into that theatre for the show time caused the same problems we had in Grimsby. The show went up very late again. It’s hugely embarrassing when this happens, and enormous, heartfelt apologies to those people who had to ask for refunds due to time restrictions. We have a harsh tour timetable and a walloping, time-demanding set which are not very compatible, and when we meet a theatre which is tricky to set up in, we do everything we can with all the tireless extra crew we have summoned, but have now twice been unable to make the start time. It was a real testament to the ladies and gents of Scarborough that they were still a hugely delightful, lively audience after that horrendous wait. Last night there also brought a series of odd outbursts from a lady in the stalls who then had to be asked to leave… a bit of drama, all rather exciting.
We’re now in Sheffield, after another horrendous ‘get-in’ and realising that one of our major props had been severely damaged the night before on the way out of Scarborough. These setbacks caused us to start a little late and Coops to confide it was probably the worst day of his working life, but we got there in the end and the show went well. Today I am writing with Iain, my co-writer, on next year’s TV projects. Finally, I am this morning visited by a mysterious flatulence of Wagnerian magnitude; the length, breadth and depth of which is pleasantly pervading the breakfast foyer of my hotel. Sadly, having arisen quite late, I am eating alone: my generosity is passing unnoticed. Perhaps I’ll come out to sign tonight only to be sent straight back in by the queue.
'HERO' JACK IN BOXES UP FOR AUCTION
Matt Galley, star of ‘Hero at 30,000 ft’, is auctioning for charity the first two of the three jack-in-the-boxes left at his doorstep during the filming of the special.
Here’s what he says on his eBay page:
Hello my name is Matt Galley,
Last year i had the fantastic opportunity to be part of a Derren Brown special called Hero At 30,000…I was an ordinary guy looking for a break and a bit of a helping hand…
I found an advert to be part of Derren’s show and i knew that if i was going to break out of my habits then, as a life long Derren Fan, he would surely be able to help me.
For those of you who saw the show you will know that Derren left cool little Jack-In-The-Box’s on my door step to show my progress through the transition from zero to hero
I want to try and help someone in need like Derren did me, so as a result i would like to auction off two of the props so that i can raise some money for SAVE THE CHILDREN who help young children in Africa get clean water, mosquito nets and a education.
So if you are a Derren fan, and want to get your hands on a small piece of his history then please let’s raise as much as we can!!
Thanks to you all,
TOUR SO FAR
The last two weeks have been a delightful hiatus in Birmingham, a city I really like. It was re-vamped a while back with such pride, and the area around Brindley Place in particular boasts enough great restaurants to keep a foodie like me very happy for a fortnight. Bank Restaurant is top of the list, being where I spent pretty much every afternoon, and Loves nearby was a really excellent new find.
It’s also a great city for the tour, as the staff of the New Alexandra theatre are beyond compare. We are lucky enough to have met some really excellent, super-friendly crews during our tours: the Alex bunch are a particular huge joy. Kim, the general manager, had made me an astonishing photo print as a welcome gift, along with some excellent whisky. More of that please. Thank you everyone there, it’s always such a treat.
The famous Brum friendliness was evident at stage door: numbers are so large outside now that it’s always a bit of a rush, but everyone was super-lovely and didn’t seem to mind. We added a tiny new bit to the show that seems to be working well, on top of the improvements we made back in Oxford. The process of continually trying to improve and tweak is one of the real joys of touring, and of course helps keep the show feeling fresh for me.
I donned the classic hat and shades celebrity disguise for a day-off trip to Alton Towers one afternoon with the gang, and we soared and dipped and vomited on Nemesis and Oblivion and Air and all the rest of them. I rather like 13, for what it’s worth. I like a bit of old-fashioned big dipperiness. A bit of plummeting punctuation to my rides. Nowadays it’s all on the one note, all the same velocity and turny-twisty.
Last year I remember riding everything, including the hilarious and terrifying Oblivion, as many times as I could, like a six-year old high on Fanta, and found later that I had strained my throat with all the tension and nearly lost my voice. So this time I was more careful. (Also, I remember, last year we had Jennie with us, who added stage blood to our faces and blackened up our teeth with make-up so we could look horribly damaged in those mid-ride photographs they sell at the exits. I recommend this game unreservedly.)
The past weeks also brought a night where a chap fainted twice on stage (during, for those in the know, THAT bit). Twice! I’m sure it all looked like part of the show, but it provided the sort of extra excitement that I live for.
Tonight is our first of three nights in Northampton. I believe it’s also home to a Torchwood convention this weekend. I wonder what sort of cross-over demographic will emerge. I’ll watch out for John Barrowman costumes or sudden bursts of ‘I Am What I Am’ in the stalls. (Do I have that right? I honestly don’t have a TV so I don’t really know what I’m talking about).
Righty-ho, carry on about your business. Pleased that the Rapture hasn’t affected show attendance, though I did find myself wondering at a couple of second-half empty seats in the front stalls last night.
The picture shows the rubbish collected from just ONE QUARTER of the stalls the other night. We’re such a filthy bunch.
COMING TO THE END OF THE TOUR
It is an unfeasibly hot day in Bournemouth. I’ve brought iPad, ordinary pad-pad, and a couple of books down to a stretch of water where wealthy, sockless middle-aged men in chinos and striped T-shirts are drinking afternoon champagne and boating with their similarly-striped, dramatically over-sunglassed female equivalents. I have never been the boaty type, but as one is grabbed under the armpit and dragged screaming and spitting through the supermarket aisles of life towards middle-age, it is comforting to find such self-contained communities of the griseous enjoying themselves with such opulent, rickety abandon.
My only worthwhile boating memory is from my twenties: that of hiring a rowing boat with my friend Joe in the Lake District. ‘Hiring’ is an optimistic term: the arrangement was that we would pay for the jaunt upon our return when, I imagine, the boat-man would know how long to charge us for. We rowed in the rain and sun, swigged Talisker from the bottle like the hardened seafarers we imagined we were, and played loud upon our harmonicas; then, when we realised too late that time was too short and the jetty too far to return to, we sailed on towards the train station we needed to reach, tied up the boat now several miles from the hire point, took a self-timed photograph of us stood triumphantly by the vessel we were abandoning, and fucked off home.
It was one of the best days of my life. Promises were made to myself to row more often, to canoe regularly, and to live the life aquatic. None of this came to pass. Instead, I have framed in my office, and holding pride of place, a glorious souvenir of us in our rain hats, flanking our boat and beaming.
Bournemouth, for readers of ‘Confessions’, was also home to my occasional Christmas family holiday at the Water’s Edge Hotel. My grandfather would treat us all to a few days by the sea. I had tried to find a picture of the hotel but found that it had since been pulled down. I am indebted to one Dean Watson, who found and emailed an old picture of said hotel and in doing so awakened some happy memories.
(On the subject of thank-yous: I received a copy of ‘Twitterature’ and a letter from a chap who worked at a book factory near or in Oxford: if you are reading this or might know him, I apologise profusely for losing your/his address. Do email me through this site.)
With just two more days of touring remaining, I shall miss the delights of new towns and lazy afternoons in eagerly acquired local haunts. The upcoming Shaftesbury Theatre London run brings with it its own peculiar pleasure, but somehow with TV concerns and other intrusions, the days don’t quite remain as carefree as I intend them to. There is, though, the private love of feeling part of a largely nocturnal stratum of London life known only to a bunch of actors and performers; a feeling of inclusion in something subterranean and steeped in joy. For a month and a half, one becomes part of London Theatreland, and for a lover of said theatre, that’s rather giddying. There are the concomitant delights of having ones social calendar cleared, save for lunchtime meets with those who might find themselves free in the days for the same reason, and of having a new home in the faded glamour of a west-end dressing room, available to make hospitable and homely according to ones whim. Of finding out who from the ranks of fame or friends might be in attendance that night, of stocking up on wine and treats to offer should they ‘come round’; meeting actor friends from other shows and discussing the idiosyncrasies of our audiences from that night; and of being on first-name terms with the doormen and waiting staff of local late-night clubs and eateries that cater for the post-show social artisan.
For my little crew it will be a blessed relief not to have to install and de-rig the set for six whole weeks, and for us all it will be a pleasure to tidy, make shiny, then primp and pimp the set with any extras which have been waiting for the convenience of the break to be installed. The show is always at its best in town. After a couple of day’s grace in which I will once again feel my bedroom carpet under my feet, perhaps watch a late-night movie with my beloved, and, excitingly, start painting a portrait of our very own Mr. Coops, the show will once again go on. A few nights to get up to speed, a press night, the reviews later that week which I won’t read (but will ask my director and PR personage for a general overview and to report any concerns worth attending to), and then the pleasure and challenge of re-creating the show six nights a week for a further six weeks without letting it ever feel like I’m merely repeating it.
Svengali, despite an error in the London Metro to the contrary, runs from June 8th to July 16th. Booking details and links are on this site. If you do come I hope very much that you enjoy it at least as much as I do. Before then, I shall soak up this impossible Bournemouth sun while I can.
TAKE PART IN MY NEW SERIES
Right. I’m not going to answer any questions on this I’m afraid, and neither can anyone else. For all the usual reasons. But if you’re in the UK and over 18 and would like to apply to take part in my new projects, please email the address below. Your email will NOT be read, so no need to say anything: it will automatically bounce back with a big questionnaire for you to fill in and send back.
Here’s the address:
Don’t do this unless you genuinely want to take part. Your decision.
MY NEW SERIES
My dear bloggees.
I have, these past few months, been secretly ferreting away on a new series of four weekly specials (and they are specials) for Chanel no. 4. I have been up to all manner of no good, hiding out here and there and making people do all sorts of dreadful things. Trailers and whatnot will be emerging very soon, but I wanted you to hear it here first.
The shows are called Derren Brown: The Experiments. The ‘Derren Brown’ bit, you’ll be immediately relieved, refers to me; the ‘The Experiments’ part is what they are. Each special is an ambitious sociological experiment, in which the unwitting subject is a single person, a crowd, or even an entire town.
Unlike previous shows, these are driven by open-ended questions. They are experiments into whether certain things are possible, or what would happen if certain situations arose, or how people might behave under certain conditions. Three of the four very much look at the darkest edges of human behaviour, and given that, I’m sure there’ll be all manner of complaints. I, meanwhile, am rather fond of them.
We’ll be posting all information here on this site first. Details of the first show should be here tomorrow.
The Experiments start on Friday, October 21st at 9pm, C4.
I do hope you enjoy them.
THE ASSASSIN: TONIGHT AT 9PM CH4
I have been asked by those who ask such things to remind you that tonight on C4, 9pm is the first episode of my new series, Derren Brown: The Experiments.
We kick off with ‘The Assassin’. Here are some teeny teaser clips of tonight’s show which you may or may not enjoy.
If you like a little comment, then do feel free to comment throughout and after the show here on this blog.
What larks. Please enjoy the show.
I thought I would pen a few words about the high-profile test offered to Sally Morgan by Simon Singh, Chris French and the Merseyside Skeptics tomorrow Monday. It looks like Sally has declined to take part, but their offer is open to conduct a fair test or at least discuss the test with her to make sure both they and her are happy with it.
Simon Singh, along with other sceptics, has had concerns about Sally and published them here on his blog. I add, as does he, that I am not saying that Sally is a fake or a fraud. I’d really like to think that she’s not, but reserve all judgement. I don’t know her and have never seen her show, on TV or on stage. Even if I had, my opinion about her would mean very little, and I’m sure she could give a flying doughnut about what I had to say. Really the only worthwhile point is whether claims such as Sally’s stand up to testing, not what I or any other individual with our own inevitable prejudices happens to think.
Until recently, I thought I had never met her, but I have since heard rather excitingly that I may have filmed an unused sequence with Sally once at her home. If I did, it would have been for one of those old Mind Control specials ten or so years ago. I have my team looking into that to see if we ever did and if they can dig it out. Certainly we filmed with one lady psychic at her house, where we each gave each other a reading, so perhaps that was it.
Sally has recently received mixed media attention following a phone call to a radio station made by a lady who had attended her show in Dublin, who said she heard what sounded like verbal cues being given to the medium on stage. Apparently she heard phrases like ‘Dave – bad back’ being whispered from the lighting booth at the back of the auditorium a few seconds before Sally repeated those words on stage, raising the strong suspicion in this woman’s mind that Sally was using an earpiece. If this were true, it would follow that the assistant in the booth had most likely picked up information in the foyer where people were openly discussing what they were hoping to hear that night. The phone call can be heard here and is worth listening to in full. Sally has since denied the insinuations, saying that it was simply lighting technicians chatting, although to me this doesn’t seem to answer the question of why she was delivering lines moments after they were heard coming from the booth.
Frustratingly for Sally, her explanation may of course be fair. To be honest, if I were a fake psychic and wanted to use an earpiece to receive my cues, I wouldn’t put my assistant in the lighting booth where in-house staff would normally work. There would be the advantage of receiving visual cues, but my preference would be to tuck him away safely backstage somewhere. Unless, that is, I was supplying all the crew for the show, in which case it (more…)
TO CLAIM OR NOT TO CLAIM
Every now and then I have a conversation with someone who has seen a couple of my shows, but hasn’t read my books or writings, and believes I claim to do all sorts of things that I really don’t. As I had such a discussion last night, and as I’ve been talking about the importance of testing psychic claims that could be fraudulent, I thought I would clarify a few points regarding my own work for anyone in any doubt.
Firstly, regarding the ‘tricks’ as performed in the older shows:
1. I have never used stooges. People generally imagine I must do if they can find no other explanation. But I don’t: it would be artistically repugnant, totally unnecessary, impractical, and would spell career suicide.
2. My techniques are rooted in conjuring magic and hypnosis. All else is most likely misdirection and should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.
3. I have never claimed to use NLP to achieve my ‘tricks’. On the contrary, I have written very critically about it in Tricks of the Mind. I reserve the same scepticism for subliminal messaging, as well as a lot of body-language reading and the like.
Now, I have largely moved on from performing those sorts of tricks. So, as regards the specials, such as The Experiments and others:
1. Again, the people used are never stooges or set up in any way. They generally apply through an open audition process, whereby we meet or interview them and look at various qualities they possess which would be useful (for example their jobs, beliefs, or how suggestible they are).
2. The contributors are always psychologically screened if they are going to go through a ‘tough’ experience. Without giving away what the show is, or giving them any clue that they will be used in it, we arrange for our preferred participants to have interviews with an independent psychologist who ensures that they will be ‘robust’ enough for the show. This is an important part of our duty of care, which we take very seriously throughout the entire process of making the programmes. And the ‘heroes’ of these specials always emerge exhilarated and delighted to have been part of it.
3. If I make a statement on these shows, it will be true. Nowadays, the Channel 4 lawyers check every word to make sure there is no misleading of the viewer: this is a huge issue in the TV industry at the moment. The joke in the office is that a magician can’t even say ‘this is a normal deck of cards’ on TV nowadays if it isn’t, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.
I know that fans will know all this already, but it’s always worth repeating. Have lovely days and enjoy tonight’s show if you’re watching.
I’ve been spending a bit of time in my painting studio. I thought I might update you. Twitter followers will have seen a shot of me painting the pianist James Rhodes. Here we are:
And here’s a better shot of the painting itself:
They’re acrylic on canvas. I’ve also been back and worked on the portrait of my father. Here it is, about the same size (5ft high) as the one of James:
and, for those who enjoy such things, a bit of detail:
Next up is actor friend Michael Sheen. I’ve taken a few shots and I’m about to get started. (I always take my own photographs and work quietly from them in my own time, as I only get a few hours here and there to paint). I’ll let you know when it’s done. What a great guy to paint. I can’t wait.
There are a few more pictures of portraits (including some of the older caricatures of Rufus Wainwright, Tom Waits, Clint Eastwood et al) on the artwork page of the main site. I’ll let you know here next time I have an exhibition: should be one next year somewhere.
Right, Merry Christmasses or just Happy Holidays, depending on whatnot. Ta-ta for now.
NEW PORTRAIT – MICHAEL SHEEN
‘Michael Sheen’ – acrylic on canvas 2011
I have known Michael for a little while, and recently went to see his Hamlet, directed by Ian Rickson and currently running at the New Vic. It’s phenomenal. Afterwards we had dinner and Michael spoke at length about what he and Ian had done with the play and why. A couple of weeks later we met again, I cooked an appalling piece of chicken and we asked him about his Passion, a mammoth modern unfurling of the Christ story spread across the streets and beaches of Port Talbot (an industrial port and market town where he grew up, and which has also produced Rob Brydon, Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton). Michael is deeply energised about his work, and if the formula for success is TALENT + ENERGY (as noted by my manager, who added wisely that the formula for stardom is SUCCESS + ATTITUDE) then Michael radiates them powerfully. He’s surely one of the most extraordinary actors of our generation, and possesses a phenomenal creative drive without any of the exhausting ego that normally accompanies mere dull ambition.
So, as I tend to paint people that I know and find extraordinary, I asked if he would mind awfully. A bit over a week later, interrupted by Christmas of course, and tweeted in its various stages, the large (it’s five foot high) portrait above was completed. For those who do not tweet, or for those who do but who might like to see the sequence together, and above all for those who give a jot because they paint and are interested in the process, I shall set it out as best as I can. Here then, is how it came together:
The other night I went to the cast and crew screening of Mark Gatiss’ Crooked House, an excellent ghost story collection for Christmas. I’ve always been a huge fan of Mark’s work, as many of you will be too. It’s a very well-written, beautifully-filmed, very effective treat, and I hope you’ll all make sure you watch it.
To those few of you who may have gotten over-excited by the exaggerated reports of my ‘first dramatic role’ in some areas of the press, please drastically lower your expectations of my personal part in this. I do have a tiny, barely-speaking cameo, safely nestled amongst the proper actors, and I’m sure you’ll cheer and be amused in all the right places, but blink and you’ll miss me.
Enjoy it – it plays on BBC 4 over Christmas on December 22, 23 and 24. Or even better, you could watch the omnibus edition of all three at 9 pm on Saturday 27 December.
Ho Ho Ho.
MY WEEK OFF
Every year I get a week off to go abroad and think about work. We have just returned from staying in and around Lisbon as guests of some wonderful friends. Here I am relaxing – look at me all relaxed – outside the gorgeous hotel that I put us up in, and the other picture is of me with some chick in a hotel room. Decide for yourselves who is cuter.
Lisbon is rather charming, though Coops wouldn’t have liked it as the pavements are not made for skating. Above all, it’s such a treat to be looked after by very generous hosts. It makes me want to be a more generous host. And thus loveliness is spread. Kindness is all. Nice to be back.
ORSON WELLES ON COLD READING
The splendid Welles discusses Cold Reading with a young David Frost. It’s a gem of a clip… and years later of course, if we wish to, we can cut to Frost enthusiastically endorsing Uri Geller on Beyond Belief.
GOD DOESN'T EXIST AND STORIES AROUND JESUS WERE CREATED LONG AFTER HE DIED
But have a happy Christmas and be your charming, delightful selves to each other.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Hope you have all had a delightful one. Just wanted to let you know that we’ve just been told the transmission date for ‘Evening of Wonders’: it’s Tuesday 13th January, 10pm, C4. I hope you enjoy it: it was very nicely filmed.
My home Internet has a habit of dying every night and needing a complete re-set, so this is from my iphone: I shall post more when all is up and running again. But happy New Year.
Today we’re filming with Daniel Kish, an extraordinary teacher of ‘echolocation’ for blind people. Completely blind himself, here he is riding a bike. He’s able to ‘see’ his environment by making tongue-clicks and then interpreting the return of the sound. I’ve just been walking around an estate with him, and listened to him describe the environment in detail, even buildings a hundred yards away. He plays laser-tag, rides bikes and skateboards, ice skates and plays basketball with his blind students. It’s an extraordinary ability. I can’t even get off a bike without falling over.
He is able to organize his world spatially, which is what he teaches: something the rest of us take for granted. But a lot of blind people organize temporally: objects are so many seconds away rather than spatially placed. Watching him trace the shape of a car with his hand, I was intrigued by the fact he had what sounded like a visual ‘space’ for the vehicle, but no visual representation to put in that space. His reply to this conundrum of how he populates his spatial world without visual objects was extraordinarily vivid. He drew a parallel with listening to a live orchestra, and that sense of a sound environment. The world, he explained, is a symphony of sound, but the objects in it do not make sound: they reflect it.
The world as a symphony of reflected sound. A beautiful and fascinating image for those of us who instinctively, wrongly presume that a blind person must be at a disadvantage.
RICHARD WISEMAN – BLOG
Thanks to everyone who has taken part in the New Scientist Face Experiment –
we are now looking at the data and hope to have something out by the middle
Also, I have just started a new blog about all things quirky at:
At the moment there are posts on how to hypnotize various animals, outtakes
of quirkology videos, new work on the classic Milgram shock experiments, an
amazing ball trick, and lots more.
So, feel free to come and browse, and post a comment or two. As ever, thanks for your continued support and interest.
Here I am at 5am this morning in the foyer of Hamleys, after a 2 hour night’s sleep. The ‘247 years old’ sign behind me refers to how I feel. The crew had spent the entire night setting up the shoot, and had slept a little amongst the toys. I understand that nothing came alive, which is disappointing This was the last day of filming ‘VTs’ for the sort-of-series for this September. It’ll be four one-hours rather than six half-hours.
Now off for a weekend with Andy, my trusty sidekick, to come up with the stage show that you’ve all paid good money to come and see. From mid-Feb we begin writing and rehearsing it: the next couple of days is just to get our heads around it and find its themes. On Monday off to Liverpool to film for a week, so maybe see one or two of you around and about up there.
Going to have an afternoon sleep before heading off. I do hope the rest of you are a little more rested. X
Off this morning (on my way to Liverpool) to record extracts of ‘Tricks of the Mind’ (i.e. the book) for iTunes. You heard it here first. It’s 6 hours of recording, but no idea how long that will translate to in terms of play.
FERRYING ACROSS THE MERSEY
As you do. First day of filming, and I shall be meeting our Liverpool medium a little later. We’ll be spending the week together and I’ll be looking at to what extent his quite serious claims really stand up. He’s made a small name for himself, and is typical of many mediums working in the UK. I, as ever, would love it to be true and am hoping he’ll show me things I can’t explain. But his involving himself in murder cases makes me uneasy. I imagine there’ll be some sequences with bereaved parents that I’ll find excruciating. Yet clearly they take much comfort from him. Much to learn, observe and discuss.
OFF TO RUSSIA
Liverpool was lovely, thank you for asking. I spent a week with a medium (see article below) making a documentary which I can only imagine will be very lively and watchable. It was an exhausting few days, but I shall say no more for now.
Sunday I’m off to Moscow to make another one – this time looking into the Bronnikov school (see the footage above or go here to their site – looks enticing, no?) and some other people claiming quite fascinating powers. As ever the idea is to go in as much as possible without prejudice, with a sincere delight in the possibility of it being real, and see whether anything extraordinary is really going on. I have spent a fascinating amount of money at Snow+Rock today on padding and thermals, but before long will probably post a picture of me here, freezing my twin peaches off by the banks of the Moskva.
Have a warm week the rest of you. x
PEARLS BEFORE BREAKFAST
A wonderful experiment conducted in a Washington DC Metro station. Playing some of the greatest music the human race has created, one of the finest violinists in the world anonymously busks: will his art cut through the rush and bustle of the commuters’ morning? Will a crowd form?
I love this article and find it very moving. It’s a splendid modern demonstration of the question of context and presentation in art, and what is required to form aesthetic appreciation. And it’s a fun stunt too. (I’m tempted to try a similar thing in London to see how it works with Europeans.)
At one point, the journalist talks about infants having an innate delight in the rhythms of music and poetry which is ‘choked out of us’ as we grow up. A similar thought has been raised concerning magic by a great magician called Paul Harris: that a baby is constantly surprised at his world, and that as we grow up and learn about our environment, we experience astonishment less and less. Harris sees the work of the magician as a way of taking people back to an almost primal state of wonder. Which may be true, though in both cases, clearly much depends upon the quality of the performance.
Apropos of such things, I recently read a terrific book called This is Your Brain on Music which is an extraordinary insight into music and how it works upon us. Well worth a read – it celebrates all types of music, so there’s no need for specialist classical knowledge.
If any of you were at the filming for the first episode of The Event last night, then thank you for coming and I hope you enjoyed yourselves. Good morning.
I have been made a Saint. Took this photo yesterday in Bruges.
It’s a little way down from the Bruges Madonna in the Church of Our Lady. I had come to see the Michelangelo piece – one of the few of his works removed from Italy – and spotted this on the way out. Look, they even got the hair right.
WORKING HARD FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT
Today was the first full day spent working on the stage show, and I think it will be a good one. ‘The Event’ is holding off until September, the caricature book is being produced somewhere by tiny ladies, and I am left with just the book and the stage show to think about.
The stage show is such an immense pleasure to write, rehearse and above all perform. The physical act of touring is tiring (which is where the word comes from), and may be even more so this year as there are barely any breaks. The days will be spent writing this book, which makes the whole process quite idyllic. No meetings, no surprise deadlines, just wonderful afternoons in coffee joints and evenings showing off on stage. It feels like a break. For those of you in the US, I would hope to be performing the stage shows either on Broadway or Vegas in a couple of years, depending on the economic climate. New York in particular would be very exciting. This may be the last time I write a stage show for the UK for a while, although I’ll be touring with it here next year as well, I would imagine.
With all the writing, I am constantly amazed at my obsessive need to prepare my environment for work. It is not really procrastination, though I suppose it is related to it, as I enjoy the work and have no desire to put it off. But in the same way that back in the day, I could never pick up photos from Boots and look at them in the shop, preferring instead to get them home unopened, make a cup of tea and then look at them in my armchair, I have a similar need for the environment to be just right before starting work. The key factors seem to be:
1. Tea made in my clever glass teapot and by my side: Lapsang or some aniseedy green thing for the evenings, Earl/Lady Grey for the mornings.
2. Bladder perfectly emptied.
3. Music (most likely Bach) at just the right volume – barely audible so as not to distract, but just present.
4. Post-it note placed over the iSight camera on my MacBook Air that I write upon. This is not for fear of being viewed, but rather that the light sensor that decides whether or not to illuminate the keyboard seems to be contained within the camera, and because the lamp behind me tends to trigger it, the keyboard tends to remain unlit. However, the general ambience is fairly dark, so I need it lit. And what I certainly don’t need is it periodically self-illuminating willy-nilly or whenever I shift in the chair. So the post-it cuts out the light to the sensor, and the keyboard glows like a beauty.
On top of this, I have taken the opportunity to re-arrange the Mentalism section of my bookshelves, ordering performers and thinkers into satisfying alphabetised neatness. This has been long overdue, since last year my housekeeper inexplicably took it upon herself to re-order a couple of thousand books based on size and colour rather than subject. This had to be done before sitting down to write up some ideas I had had for Act Two of the show: the logic being that it would aid research, which I’m sure it will.
On the subject of books, I am currently reading and enjoying Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring by a very nice chap called Mick Mangan. It is what it says on the tin, but it has an engaging tone which is lacking in many books that cover similar topics. Also, I’m finishing Robert McKee’s classic Story, which is an absolute delight. Anyone with an interest in writing will find it invaluable, although he has his detractors.
This weekend, I am being taught how to shave with a cut-throat. Following the blog entry I made some time ago on shaving, the kind ladies and gentlemen at Trumpers offered me the knowledge I mentioned I lacked. I am most excited. Apparently it’s a given I will injure myself doing this for the first time. I am a bit of a coward, so this makes me nervous. (Blaine or Angel would be straight in there).
Finally, it now seems I have someone posing as me on Twitter. This is not me, in case anyone has been thinking otherwise. Same goes for Facebook, MySpace, Facespace, MyFace, SpyMace, BookSpace or Lickmygoatee.com. Should I ever do anything like that, I’ll let you know immediately. Or at least after I’ve had a wee and turned the music down.
It’s had a lot of hits, so you may know it already, but this is remarkable wildlife footage.
BELIEF AND NON-BELIEF
The other night, I met with an old friend and his class of sixth formers who had come from Bristol to London on what I affectionately remember as one of those ‘English trips’. Sat with Roland, another teacher and the delightful group after a play, his colleague asked what I was up to, and I mentioned the documentaries I had been making. I explained that they followed your blogger spending a week with persons making paranormal claims to observe and question and see whether said claims hold up. Perhaps sensing my scepticism, the younger teacher asked, “So do people astral travel?”
“Well, it looks unlikely”, I answered. “It’s quite an easy thing to test: if people feel they’re floating up to the ceiling and looking down on themselves, you can put something up on a high shelf and see if they can identify it. Invariably they can’t. However, there are psychological states which can create that sort of illusory feeling, so it’s more likely to be something auto-suggestive”.
She replied: “Well, I don’t believe that”.
Roland gave me a look of delighted expectancy, and I figured courtesy took precedence over inquiring exactly what she meant by that comment.
Nietzsche made the point well that we equate truth with what we merely want to believe, which, as he continued behind his sensational moustaches, is an insult to the very idea of truth. Here we have a woman, who I presume ‘believes’ in astral travel, asking for information, and then rejecting it when it doesn’t fit with the belief she has in place. There is an interesting conundrum here. Science moves forward by changing its views based on observation. A learning machine, it wants to be shown to be wrong, so that it can dispassionately correct itself and advance. It looks for what’s reliable, what holds up, searches for the bit that makes something work and shakes off unhelpful clutter. That’s why, as Tim Minchin (in his great song Storm back in this blog somewhere) and John Diamond (in Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations) point out, that ‘alternative medicine’, when shown to work, becomes ‘medicine’. Willow root does work as a pain-killer; so scientists have helpfully worked out what the effective part of willow root is that does the job, have re-produced it, and called it aspirin. Science is about insatiable curiosity for how things work; yet open your mouth and offer a scientific explanation and you are without pause chastened, abased, cowed and subdued as if an honest spirit of inquiry were tantamount to hanging ones member in their pale organic ginseng infusions.
This is surely to do with tone. Science has to be done dispassionately, as its aim is to step outside of personal beliefs and see as best as possible what’s actually going on. But we do not instinctively warm to bloodless reason, preferring the emotional appeal of heartfelt opinion, and it is hard for a scientific explanation to entice the imagination with colour and easy mystery. Of course, the reality is that science gives us far richer colours and much deeper mystery than our hopeless brains can fathom, which is most probably why so many make up such shallow fantasies in their place which, in their vacuousness, are easier to grasp.
The scientific community (traditionally unassuming, bearded and softly-spoken) is at long last managing to communicate more effectively, by learning to use the very ‘spin’ that has for so long allowed pseudo-science to be soaked up by the media. Sense About Science is making important moves in bringing science out of the cabinet. That scientific ‘tone’, that can seem to joyless and reductionist to those who don’t see that beneath it lies knowledge far more genuinely enlightening than talk of psychic ability can ever be, is hopefully slowly shifting, as science learns how to communicate in a touchy-feely world where it has fallen out of fashion and food-scares and genetic hysteria have caused many to distrust it.
Interestingly, one very passionate voice to come from the scientific community has led to derision from both sides. Richard Dawkins has for decades, written beautifully on science. Anyone who feels that to not believe in the supernatural is to live an empty, meaningless life should find the time to read Unweaving the Rainbow, which opens with the words:
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”
When The God Delusion emerged, it was a new, rallying cry and a platform was established. Dawkins’ unapologetic tone, borne from his frustration at how reason has to ‘tip-toe quietly from the room’ whenever religion is mentioned, made sure this frustration was loudly heard. Since then, some atheists less vocal have been embarrassed by what they saw as an evolutionary biologist writing too passionately, outside of his area, and ultimately with a tone they did not share. People who have never read the book believe it to be a mad rant, which it is not. It’s thorough and well-argued, even if you don’t agree with it: the only crime I can see is that he pokes his head above the parapet, and in Britain more than anywhere, you’re likely to get an arrow through your head for such being so bold.
Also, those who enjoy sounding clever like to say that atheism is another form of fundamentalism. Now, anything can be communicated rudely, and lord knows there’s plenty of rudeness around, especially upon and within the discussion fora of Her Majesty’s Internet. But this sanctimonious, trite and flatulent proclamation should be heard as a request for a firm smack. Atheism is simply not happening to believe in God. It is not a belief system in itself. I also do not believe in the tooth-fairy, but that does not make me an anti-tooth-fairy fundamentalist. I may be accused of insensitivity towards your faith in the nocturnal fang-bandit, but the point is I not have a belief. The confusion arises because believers in the extraordinary presume that it is up to the non-believer to disprove the claims of the believers. This is a mistake: I do not have to prove that the tooth-fairy does not exist – the onus for evidence is upon you, the believer. If you want me to take your claim seriously that he/she does exist, then I’m going to ask to see some fairy-poo. Aside from the fact that no-one can ever prove a negative – i.e. that something does not exist – it’s simply up to the person making the claim to offer the evidence. When this gets confused, the fact that an atheist cannot ever offer ‘proof’ of his lack of belief, can sound to the believers as if he’s just living out another sort of faith.
Due primarily to Dawkins’ book, the discussion is now a popular one, and people find themselves not only taking sides, but defending their belief or lack of it. This is not a bad thing, for in that discussion, reason may tip-toe back into the room again. But in such debates, opinions can become heated, tempers lost, and little exchange of understanding happens. Both sides can spout rhetoric in order to score points.
When I was a Christian, we were often told the importance of living exemplary lives: that by being likeable people, we would have a better chance of spreading the Word. Despite hearing this labeled revoltingly as ‘Friendship Evangelism’, the point is an important one. We respond very positively to kindness and likeability (a simple fact lost to many NLPers who obsess over ‘rapport techniques’ and become alienating characters in the process). A rational explanation, or request for evidence, might seem a bitter pill to those that have their identity wrapped up in belief; a little sugar in the mix is so important. If one attacks, one is simply not accepting the person as a human being, who will have sufficient evidence, according to her yardstick, for believing in whatever she chooses to. And in denying that person’s humanity, one rather belittles ones own. There is a place for Dawkins’ bothered incredulity, certainly when dealing with public figures, but for the rest of us, an ability to engage is hugely important. Scepticism, after all, is about honest questioning; a spirit of engagement. Many call themselves sceptics, but are in fact cynics, refusing to engage or accept evidence at any level.
In that tightly secured, permanently guarded area, both these cynics and the astral projectors wander in the same circles, fingers in ears, whistling.
I do apologise. I feel awful. You see, I very rarely get a chance to read the comments on this blog, which I hope you understand, so I had missed the extensive birthday wishes which had poured in over and around that Special Day. In my mind, you were all privately celebrating, or perhaps has arranged some informal international soirée, so it took a tap on the shoulder from the more attentive persons who run this blog to let me know of this extraordinary kindness. So thank you – there were wishes from all over the world, which is really so touching. Thank you thank you thank you. I have never received so many Happy Birthdays in my life and I’m not sure what to do with them all. I shall put what I can around the virtual mantelpiece and on top of the online cabinet and look at them every day.
Happy Birthday to you all too. What a lovely bunch you are.
Out in a very muddy part of Battersea, filming the title sequence for The Event. The kind ladles and jellyspoons have bought me the cheapest black suit from Burtons so that I don’t slop all over my nice ones. This one makes a ‘sshh’ sound as I walk.
Cary Grant, famed for his sartorial brilliance, apparently was a famous stinge and only wore cheap Burtons suits himself when off-camera. Yet, being Cary Grant, he pulled it off, and people never guessed.
When you see this sequence air, be quietly aware that the suit makes a ‘sshh’ sound and I’m wearing knee-high thermal socks.
SHRIEK OF ARABY HANGS UP HIS SLIPPERS
WEST END DETAILS – YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST FOLKS
DERREN BROWN: ENIGMA
The ‘G’ is pronounced. I shall be on London radio this morning plugging this for all its worth.
Tickets will go on sale 10.00am, Thursday 12 March. We’ll put a reminder here.
Box Office: 0844 579 0090
www.seetickets.com (no booking fee)
Monday June 15 – Saturday July 18. All performances at 8.00pm, no performances Sunday.
Tickets: £25.00, £35.00, £45.00, plus limited number of £65 premium seats at each performance. The performance is not suitable for children under 12 years.
Hope to see some of you there.
Cathal Morrow has spent a year not telling a lie (his ‘Kantian Oath’), and his book, The Complete Kant, will be out soon. It will undoubtedly get a lot of attention, in that ‘Yes-Man’ kind of way. It looks fascinating, and can be explored and dipped into here.
On the subject of books, a favourite author of mine, Alain de Botton, has just launched his latest work, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Embarrassingly, I’ve had it in my possession now for a couple of weeks, and still haven’t read it, which is a first for me when it comes to his work. It is supposed to be his finest yet. If you do not know him, his work is eclectic and whimsical, but bound by a deep and philosophical interest in everyday living. Elsewhere on this blog I have mentioned his School of Life, for which I will at some point, when I get a sodding moment, give a ‘sermon’.
Rehearsals continue, along with the biennial paranoia that the new show won’t be as good as the last one. However, it’s not all stress and panic. Andy took this picture during rehearsals a couple of days ago:
This is how hard we’re working to give you value for money. And at least you can see that we’re treating ourselves to a glamorous rehearsal space.
Right, must get on with it. No rest for the wicked.
FEW THOUGHTS ON PAREIDOLIA
Pareidolia is the name given to our tendency to find significance in random stimuli – most commonly our tendency to see faces and people where there are none. Richard Wiseman’s huge collection of ghost pictures is largely a celebration of this fascinating phenomenon, and it also seemed to be a sensible – and often obvious – explanation behind a collection of ghost pictures I was shown recently as part of a documentary. Of course, for evolutionary reasons, we are hard-wired to veer towards the ‘false positive’ of seeing faces or people where there are none, as it is helpful to be over-sensitive to the presence of a possible predator. For this reason, we might mistake shadows for a burglar, but rarely a burglar for shadows. Also, it only takes a couple of dots and a line underneath for us to see a face and respond to it as one; hence the easy emotional grammar of smilies. Imagine trying to portray a church, or even a flower, or anything other than a face, with a couple of punctuation marks.
So here’s my favourite example, which a few enthusiasts amongst you might know. We see a sort of huge Jesus-face between the man and woman in the photograph, and it’s very hard to snap out of it and see the actual subject: a Victorian toddler in a white bonnet being held by her father. The vegetation in the background appears to be hair in the foreground, and we’re seduced by our evolutionary preference for seeing a face. Have a look and work it out:
Aside from how fun it is to have our minds toyed with in this way, it’s a great lesson in how this kind of thing can fool us. In this picture, we know it isn’t a ghost. Partly this is because no-one’s saying it’s a ghost, but also we understand what the real subject is supposed to be, because when we eventually work it out, we have a solid alternative figure – and a far more plausible one – looking back at us in its place. Yet, had the illusion been created not by a little girl, but by the interplay of branches, shadows, light, water ripples and so on, (which would be just as likely to happen), there’d be no clear alternative emerging figure to ‘prove’ the illusion wrong. And thus, a ghost-believer might laugh off the picture above as an optical illusion (caused by the light and shadow of a little girl) while insisting another is real evidence for the supernatural (caused by light and shadow of a noisy background).
Another point worth remembering is that out of the millions of photographs or pieces of footage taken where these illusions are present, there will naturally emerge a few which are as convincing as the one above. That has to happen – as some have to be better than others, and a few have to be the best. So just because some ghost pictures are very striking, and where the suggestion of random light and shadow forming a face might sound like the most blinkered cynicism, this does not mean you have to throw up your hands and admit a ghostly presence. It might be a ghost of course, in the same way it might be digital manipulation or a missed real-life intruder into the frame, but there’s nothing wrong with it just being one of those have-to-occur great instances of pareidolia too. Logically, there have to be some very convincing ones out there. Start with enough photographs being taken, and you’ll end up with a small number of absolute doozies.
More importantly, though, these are huge fun. Do check out Richard Wiseman’s ever-changing online collection if you haven’t already.
URGENTLY CALLING ALL HYPNOTISTS – WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!
DISASTER HAS STRUCK IN PREPARATION FOR THE TOUR AND WE GIVING A HUGE CALL OUT TO ALL THE HYPNOTISTS OUT THERE WHO MIGHT BE ABLE TO HELP.
During the preparation for the finale piece of the Enigma live show Derren has
accidentally managed to hypnotise himself. He’s in a trance state,
suffering from severe memory loss, has trouble with movement on his
left side and cannot talk. He’s been like this since 8.30am today
and attempts to bring him back round have only made the effects worse.
An onsite medical team has assured us that there is no major trauma caused although they are unsure of what the cause of the symptoms are and we have been told not to move Derren from the site.
Anyone who thinks they can help reboot Derren should contact us
immediately with instruction as the tour begins in just a few days and
there is still considerable work to do. We are all quite concerned
about this but are quite sure that Derren can be returned to normal
before the tour begins if we get the right help.
Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org before Thursday if
you think you can help.
I hope you will all understand that we will not update the site or the blog until we know Derren is OK.
All at Brown Towers
Skrat’s friend Cat took this… thank you Cat.
Seriously, though, hurry.
IF YOU'RE UP AND SHOWERED
I’ll be on Frank Skinner’s breakfast show, on Absolute Radio, 9-10 am this morning. This may only be London-based, I’m not sure.
FIRST TECH RUN
We got the show up on its feet today for a tech run… well, the first half, anyway, and then it was 10pm and everyone had to go home. I think it will be a good one. There are some previews later in the week, when some changes will be made, and then after a quick bout in Hastings it’s straight into a 4,500-seater in Bournemouth. Goodness me.
If you’re coming, I hope you like it. I hear the tour sold out a while ago, so if you don’t want to risk waiting for returns, get in for London while you can.
Meanwhile, to those of you who got up off your fat, wobbling, lardy sofas and bought tickets, I look forward to seeing you there. Have safe trips and I shall blog more often once I’m on the road.
I don’t want to post any pictures that might spoil any surprises relating to what’s in the show, so here, instead, is a picture I took of a squirrel today:
TWO DAYS IN
First two preview days in Chatham have passed without death or injury. The first night, astonishingly, provoked a standing ovation, despite the fact that I felt the first half went pretty terribly. We’d all been concerned about whether the second half would play well, and confident about the first: the surprising outcome for us was that it was the first that needed the most attention. Things that you imagine will be inherently fun just fall a bit flat, or take too long; you realise that segments are too wordy or bits need to be re-arranged to create the strongest impact. So we cut out some pieces, tightened others, and made a whole load of changes. The second night was better, though my balding headlet got confused over some of the changes and left a few bits shoddier than I would have liked. Such is the nature of previews, and the audience get to see a work in progress, which has its own pleasures.
I don’t want to mention any specifics from the show, so please, if you’ve seen it, please please don’t talk publically about the content either. I’m very careful in pre-tour interviews, despite journalists’ wearying insistence, not to give anything away that happens in the show (partly because we make so many changes late, but mainly because I want to preserve the surprises). So I hope you’ll join in with that as we go along and more of you see it. There are a few more previews left and then Wednesday the official first night kicks off in Hastings. That’s Hastings, which I royally frigged off last year by having to cancel when I couldn’t speak. At least this year they’ll get a reasonably fresh voice.
BOOKS AND MUSIC THAT MAKE YOU DUMB
A fun bit of research by a student called Virgin Griffith about correlations between intelligence (at least as measured by college SAT scores in the US) and what music you listen to and books you read. Judge yourself accordingly. I know where I am on that scale, but it would be gauche to mention it.
From the brilliant David Britland: Thank you, David.
OFF WE GO
Last night in Chatham, after a gruelling packing up of the show. The in-house crew: Graeme, Neil, Chris, Pete, Frank, Alec were all just excellent. Thank you, guys.
Currently sat in the Ramada hotel (where I arrived to find a fresh poo in my toilet. No paper in there with it, mind.) Have ordered pizza for us all. Tomorrow, off to Hastings. The show feels up to speed, though I was a little under-energy tonight.
Thank you anyone out there for supporting the show in previews.
FIRST TWO NIGHTS, HASTINGS
The first night was terrific: the show went well and the audience were delightful: warm and very enthusiastic. All 1066 of them (the capacity of the Hastings theatre… See what they did?) sprung to their feet and were brilliant throughout, despite me confusing my own crew by getting a couple of bits round the wrong way. Tonight’s show was much fun, marred only by a couple of props that decided to do their own thing or fall apart.
Spent yesterday afternoon in the delightful Cafe des Artes, a gorgeous art gallery and cafe in Hastings which turned out to be run as part of a major Autistic trust. Some of the staff are autistic, and clearly the job is designed to be of great assistance to them, as part of a planned programme designed by the trust. I got talking to one of the women who runs it: a lovely lady called Lisa who used to be a magician’s assistant at the circus in a female magic act. There are very few magiciennes nowadays, and even fewer during her circus years. So she’s a magician’s-assistant-turned-careworker. An excellent lady.
I did a tiny on-film thing for their latest awareness project, which I’m sure will be on YouTube at some point. And clearly the programme works well: I spoke after the show to a delightful chap called Anthony who had a job at the cafe as part of living and working with with his own autism. Quite fascinating, and lovely to come across the project.
Today was spent visiting some great friends who live in an ex-church in Folkestone. After months of working exceptionally hard, it was amazing to sit in the sun, with wonderful people, play with their toddler Scarlett and eat a splendid lunch. Brilliantly, she made chocolate crucifixes for pudding. Get that.
A really lovely start to the tour. The wonderful weather helps as we weave around the coastline. Thank you Hastings, you’ve kicked us off royally and forgiven a few minor glitches.
Bournemouth (the BIC) is a huge conference centre, as opposed to theatre, so the stage had to be built from scratch in a massive empty barn of a room. It seats over 4000; the rows stretching back and back, making me a tiny pink featureless dot for those lucky ladies and gentlemen in the back reaches. Work started at six am, and I spent the afternoon in town writing a foreword for a book on Houdini which is on its way out soon. (Amazon makes it sound like i have written the book with Harry himself: not quite, it’s just a foreword).
The first night in Bournemouth was great: such a huge crowd, all of whom sprung to their feet the moment the show finished. Andy, our sound chap, did an excellent job of making sure everyone could hear me clearly in that big old space, and Tim and Other Andy did a sterling job on lighting. (Both aside from Other Other Andy who directs.)
After the show, we arrived at the Captain’s Club Hotel, a beautiful retreat by the marina, and have been looked after astonishingly well by Cheryl, who has just brought me an excellent Eggs Benedict. (This is the touring brekkie of choice, and so far I haven’t found one on a menu). We’ve never received such extraordinary service from a hotel: Cheryl even came to pick me up last night after the second Bournemouth show. They went to amazing lengths to make sure we were looked after, and we’ve all had the most wonderful and refreshing stay. Thank you Cheryl, Tim, Rob, Luke, Marcus and Bagel and everyone else.
That night after the show, we had a visit from a chap called Phil who had taken part in the Heist – he was one of the guys who refused to continue with the Milgram, to his credit. He now works for a private wine company called Romanet, and he arrived at the hotel to give us all a delightful post-show wine-tasting. Just lovely. Thank you again Phil! A great end to a night. Our production manager spilt ketchup over the carpet: that’s about as rock ‘n’ roll as I get.
The next day Coops and I went to Monkeyworld and looked at monkeys. Here’s a picture of one I looked at:
And another, more aggressive one:
The second night was ok, but felt just a bit flat in comparison to the previous nights: the audience were still lovely but it was the first show without a standing ovation. Whaddya gonna do. Back to the Captains Club for some excellent seafood after the show.
Bye-bye Bournemouth, it’s been much fun. Long drive now… to Nottingham. Hoot if you pass us.
NOTTINGHAM – FIRST NIGHT
Left Bournemouth and said goodbye to Cheryl. Here we are: me, Cheryl, Bagel and Rob:
And after a long drive, where I pretty much slept the whole way and left Coops to smoke fags and hum, we arrived in Nottingham yesterday afternoon. None of us had had more than a few hours’ sleep the night before, so crew energy was quite low.
The show, however, was great: best so far. The differences would only be noted by those of us who know the show well: even a night that might seem a little flat to me (audiences differ geographically; different weeknights bring in different moods and levels of rowdiness; my own level of concentration, enjoyment and energy will naturally fluctuate) will hopefully be enjoyed by the audience to roughly the same extent as a night I think was a triumph. But last night felt very good, and the response at the end was amazing. I hope tonight will have a similar feel: the set-out of the auditorium means it’s tricky for people to get up on stage quickly. The danger is in such places that the overall pace can slip a bit if we’re having to routinely wait for people to get up on stage. In the Royal Concert Hall where I’m playing, it can take people two minutes to get down from upstairs – these are the things I have to check before the performance starts. Two minutes is an eternity to wait during a show. There are times when such a wait holds: there’s a lot that has to be balanced to keep the spirit of the show bouncing along in all the right places, and for the darker, slower sequences to not feel interminable.
The people after the show were as lovely as ever: the stage door at the RCH opens into the street, so this is one venue where there’s a tendency for signings to last for hours as passers-by attach themselves to the outer reaches of the friendly gathered crowd. I had to be a little more hurried than usual last night as we had to make a dinner reservation, but thank you all of you who gathered there, and apologies again that I was rushed.
It’s a rainy morning in Nottingham, and having packed nothing suitable for wet weather, I may have to postpone the bits of shopping I need to do for myself and the show. Yesterday managed to make it to Debenhams here before early Sunday closing: just in time to have a very sweet member of staff at the till recognise me in a blushy, lovely way, while I knew I had to then pay for a bunch of pants I’d just bought. I considered just stealing them to avoid the embarrassment, but imagine the scandal if I was caught. Like a cheap Winona Ryder. At least she’d have been caught in House of Fraser.
NOTTINGHAM – 2ND NIGHT
Well, if I may say so, I think that was even better than last night. First time I’ve had 2,000 people standing and cheering before the (very) end. This is good – feels like the show has really found itself. And that’s great, given the extra pressure of the West End this year. Am sat back in the hotel having a pizza – which I know is a bad idea this late – and a scotch, waiting for the crew to come back. Tomorrow is a treat day. A day off, aside from travel, and some fun is planned.
Thank you to all the lovely people who queued outside in the drizzle to say hello afterwards. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of nights.
That really is quite enough pizza. Very tasty though: pepperoni and chorizo. if those aren’t just two of my favourite things on a pizza, than I don’t know what they are. But I shall stop, lest there are windy-pops. Ner-night.
NEW SITE LAUNCHED
Well, hello there. This is my brand new website. Brighter, shinier and more absorbent, it was designed by Pixel Dandy (@pixeldandy, creator of Horrorgami) and built by the brilliant team @abeodbart and @drigodwin. It has taken a while to buffet and pummel it into the shape you see now, so do forgive the delay. However, as they say, those who abandon themselves to delayed gratification often accrue commodities of a desirable nature.
Firstly, a few quick things to point out:
1 – After much concern, the ‘store’ is remaining a ‘store’ and not a ‘shop’. I would like it to be a ‘shop’ but ‘Derren Brown Shop’ just sounds a bit lame. Either way, we will now globally ship (what’s wrong with ‘post’ for the love of God?) the few items we keep for people who would like to have a little piece of me across their chests (T-shirt) or entirely inside them (postcard pack). We have a limited number of signed Svengali brochures for sale too.
2 – If you are in the UK and perhaps due to mental illness would like to own one of three massive pictures of me taken from the front of the Novello theatre this year, feel free to enter our half-arsed competition to win one. But really, ask yourself slowly and repeatedly if you genuinely want it. What the hell are you going to do with it? Ok, it’s probably wipe-clean. But then what? If you’re really sure, email us at <<competition now closed>> and say what you’re planning to do with it and we’ll pluck three of our favourite answers out of a fruit-bowl and get it (the picture) to you. Here are some photographs so you get the idea. We can’t guarantee which one of the three we’ll send you but do say if you prefer one and we’ll do our best.
3 – We’re hoping you might spot a few bugs or glitches that we’ve missed. If you do (or if you want to send us any feedback that you think might be appreciated), please be kind enough to email email@example.com. We’ll deal with any errors discreetly and sensitively, ensuring that no liquid escapes onto your clothes and giving you complete peace of mind.
There you go. Experience, user.
APOCALYPSE – RADIO TIMES ARTICLE
Below is the text of an article I wrote for the current Radio Times about Apocalypse – the first episode of which airs this Friday, C4 at 9pm. (It’s a little longer than the published version which was edited down a bit)
IN THIRTEEN years of making shows for Channel 4, I’ve realised there are two things that I enjoy most from the process. Firstly, and this is something I’ve only explored in recent years, the ability to have a profound positive impact on someone’s life. Secondly, there is the physical act of hiding somewhere waiting for an unsuspecting contributor’s day to suddenly become highly surreal. Shifting the focus of the shows from my own posturing to the subject of bringing out someone else’s finest qualities, seems to me to be a welcome aspect of growing up. Magic can be a childish business. The other part – hiding behind a bush waiting to spring a huge practical joke – is hugely exciting but most certainly puerile.
Since January this year I’ve been working on a major project which has only now just been completed. It combines both of these delights for me, at levels I hadn’t experienced before. Derren Brown: Apocalypse airs across two episodes, starting on October 26th. In it, a young chap called Steven, who by his own admission takes his life for granted, re-discovers how much it means to him. By believing the world has ended.
The Stoic philosophers advise us to regularly rehearse the loss of everything we love. Only that way can we learn to value what we have in life, rather than fixate upon things we don’t. It seems our psychological landscape hasn’t changed much since Seneca was penning advice to his protégés of ancient Rome. Those who study desire keep coming across the same answer: that to master desire, we must learn to want what we already have. We are bombarded daily by overt and covert messages from advertisers, media and peers, conditioning us to hanker after the latest, shiniest, most retinally-screened trinket, or to claim for ourselves our bigger house or faster car or sexier partner. And we may find ourselves anxious and distracted if we don’t find a way of acquiring these things, but more interestingly we only enjoy them for a very short while before reverting back to our former dissatisfied state. This hedonic treadmill keeps us moving forward at whatever level of happiness to which we are pre-disposed, and despite the spikes of momentary glee as some new status symbol comes our way, we don’t really grow any happier. The joy of the car and the house and the phone doesn’t stick around. The way to feel satisfied, and to know that your desires are being truly met, is to hunger after what you have already in your life.
Seneca’s advice, for example, to consider the mortality of your daughter as you kiss her goodnight, may strike us as morbid. But to remind yourself regularly that your loved ones, your home, in fact everything you value might be taken away in an instant, is to value them so much more. The common regret voiced by those who have lost loved ones suddenly – that not enough was said, that the time together was not richly enough enjoyed – these mistakes are made because we rarely consider the impermanence of those relationships before it’s too late. Mentally rehearsing how you would feel if each precious thing was taken away not only makes you value it more, but prepares you for the day it does disappear.
In Apocalypse, a young man who personifies that familiar lazy sense of entitlement to which we are all prone in one way or another, comes to believe that the world is going to end. He has no idea that he is the star of an ambitious television show. We hack into his phone, control his Twitter and news feeds, have his favourite radio DJ and television hosts record special versions of their shows that we can play into his home. After the seed of an impending meteor strike has been planted, we end the world for him on his way to a gig. He passes out and then, seemingly two weeks later, he wakes up, in an abandoned military hospital. The man who took his life and family for granted must now fight to get them back. And he’ll have the lurching hordes of infected to deal with, as the meteor has picked up from its interstellar travels a deadly and highly contagious disease.
What follows is a carefully crafted horror film plot, intricately designed to teach the unwitting Steven valuable lessons. The infected are, of course, hideous embodiments of his former slothful life. The survivors he encounters are created to teach him what he needs to know – about courage, about selflessness, about decisiveness. It’s the Wizard of Oz with zombies. Our survivor-actors, (each wearing a hidden and largely-functional earpiece), were rehearsed for months to deal with every possible eventuality that Steven’s never-entirely predictable behaviour might instigate. Watching from our camouflaged production truck with our team of medics and psychologists, we could direct the players to deal with surprises and keep Seven’s reality vivid and plausible. With over a hundred actors involved, along with nearly sixty meticulously-hidden cameras, two thousand feet of cabling, eight months of very hard work, and an extraordinary amount of money being spent, maintaining a seamless experience for Steven was paramount. The whole thing could be brought crashing down by the slightest thing, such as whatever furry or undead entity ate through our main cable on the first night and left us helpless in the morning.
Was it worth putting Steven through this to realise his potential? The response to that sensible question depends on two factors: a) the degree of negative emotions that he experienced, and b) the level of change that was brought about. And on balance my answer would be yes. His early application to be part of the show incorporated a series of rigorous interviews with an independent psychiatrist who had to be certain that he was robust enough for what was in store for him. With our psychiatrist’s reports and the full knowledge and help of Steven’s family we were able to create an experience that was fully tailored to be real for him. The plot was carefully structured to manage his negative emotions and ensure that a sense of hope was kept alive for him.
The changes, importantly for me as well as Steven, have to be profound and self-perpetuating. The challenge is to set up new thought-patterns that won’t just grind to a halt after the initial adrenaline of being involved in a TV show has worn off. Sadly, I suspect that may be the case with many participants in seemingly ‘transformational’ television programmes. With Steven, as with Matt from Hero at 30,000 Feet, I have maintained a relationship and continue to ensure that the work was all worth it. Which is, along with the joy of going to such great lengths for one unsuspecting person’s experience, the best part of the job.
I tweeted for any questions about Apocalypse. As imagined, with over a million followers the response was very enthusiastic, so I’ll answer the most repeated questions and address a few points as best I can. Thanks everyone who submitted questions.
WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM?
Iain Sharkey and Stephen Long, my co-writers and I, sat around playing with ideas. It seemed to good to be doable – too big, too expensive, too unproducable – but my brilliant production team managed to make it work with very little compromise. And once we knew we could do it over two parts, we were able to then really try and write it like a horror film. Mark Gatiss came on board to help in the initial stages of the post-apocalyptic story, and a brilliant writer called Ben Teasdale worked closely with Sharks throughout the process to get the final narrative in place. It was, as they say, sooooooo exciting.
WAS STEVEN AN ACTOR?
Despite conspiracy theories and rumours online, Steven is not a stooge, or an actor, or in any way just playing along. Same goes for his family and friends that you see in the programme. They’d all have to be actors too. And all his REAL family – and anyone that knows him – taken away and quietly killed. My shows always provoke a flurry of people insisting it’s all fake, and I’ve come to expect that – exhausting and hurtful though it can be after months and months of love and sweating blood to make such massively ambitious and heart-felt programmes.
I have never, ever used stooges or actors in that way. It’s artistically repugnant, lazy and just unnecessary. And impossible to pull off, as anyone that knows him would of course be able to say so. We spent months setting up Steven’s experience, getting his family on board, and spending a vast sum of money making it as convincing as possible for him, and all our efforts making sure that he experienced a real transformation. To fake all of that with an actor would be pointless. A few theories have sprung up online – firstly that he is a working actor who has appeared in a comedy ad. I’ve seen the ad – that is not Steven. That is an actor with dark eyebrows who does look hilariously like him, but isn’t:
Others have found a picture of Steven with Adam Buxton taken four years ago when Adam was filming a pilot in Steven’s home town. Steven was an audience member and had his photo taken with Adam. Standing with an actor in a photograph does not make you an actor. Adam says “He was not an acting in the pilot. He was in the audience.”
Lastly, concern has sprung up in some quarters because Steven had a profile page on a popular casting site where a lot of people of all ages put themselves up for extra work and crowd/audience stuff for TV shows (this was NOT how we found him but a lot of people sign up hoping to be on TV). He has since changed/tried to remove his profile as he was upset at the negative attention from people who took it to mean he was actually an actor.
We have received this comment from Simon Dale who runs Casting Call Pro, the website in question:
“We’ve seen the rumours that a person on Derren Brown’s show is an actor, and all the tweets etc. surrounding it, and the media reporting of it.”
“Steve Brosnan is not, as far as we are aware, a professional actor. He created a profile on our site but never completed it, and didn’t upload any professional acting credits or a professional acting headshot – and so his profile was never ‘live’ on our system as he didn’t meet our joining criteria (i.e. he didn’t have professional acting training or experience).”
Aside from an ‘ensemble’ school production he has never, ever, ever acted. Even if he returns to this early interest in the future (his brother works as an occasional actor so it’s possible he might), it won’t mean he was acting in this show.
All the people who take part in these shows are 100% real. Matt Galley, from Hero at 30,000 ft had similar accusations of being a stooge, from similar conspiracy-driven quarters after his show. Part of the pity of these rumours are that it’s always hurtful for the participants involved who have been through an emotional, transformative experience, are feeling really good about themselves and have been looking forward to the show going out. It’s horrible.
Steven was chosen from thousands who applied to be part of the show, as we explained at the start. He was chosen because he was suggestible enough to allow me to put him asleep quickly, fit our desired profile of someone who took his life for granted, and yet was likeable enough to carry the show – a rare combination. His mum, dad and family are all real too. They are a family living in Buckinghamshire.
On another note – it simply wouldn’t be permissible now to pretend someone was a real member of the public if he or she was acting. Misleading the public in a TV show is a big deal, and a massive lie like that wouldn’t be permitted by the channel. But that’s beside the point: I just don’t use actors in that way. These stunts are not faked. You can just enjoy the show.
DID YOU EVER FEEL GUILTY? DID YOU EVER FEEL YOU’D GONE TOO FAR?
No. I knew it would all work out very well, be worth the ride, and that it was important he go through something very emotional to get there. It’s quite an intense experience watching him in the truck through the monitors: it’s impossible not to feel a strong sense of attachment. I think our first moment of ‘Wow, this is really happening’ was when he woke up and was watching the army broadcast we had created. But no guilt – plus I’ve gotten used to the residual background feeling that I’m probably going to hell.
HOW DID YOU STOP STEVEN FROM TALKING TO FRIENDS ABOUT THE METEOR ATTACK?
There was no need to. The initial meteor shower, as explained, was real: the second nastier wave of asteroids was invented, but it didn’t become a serious threat (and therefore anything that other people should have known about) until he was on the coach.
I HAVE SPOTTED A CONTINUITY ERROR. DOES THAT MEAN IT’S ALL FAKE?
Steven was filmed in his post-apocalyptic world for a long weekend. Everything is crunched down to tell the honest story in the short TV time we have. The ambulance journey, for example, you see in the first episode, took over half an hour (during which Iain came in and out to assure them all was ok, allowing us to keep a check on Steven’s welfare). We needed them to keep driving while we ensured that the next location was all set up. When things get crunched down, and sometimes shots are switched around by the editor, little glitches in continuity may occasionally occur. They may delight those who for some reason are determined to pick through every moment to find fault, but they mean nothing other than some time has probably been cut out or very occasionally a different shot has been used for some technical reason. When trying to tell a 48 hr story filmed with hidden cameras in just over an hour, it’s likely to happen.
Big chunks have been lost for time while we’ve tried to preserve all the action. I’m really hoping that if/when this comes out on DVD we’ll be able to include the ‘making of’ and some unseen footage as DVD extras.
WERE YOU WORRIED HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS WOULD GIVE THE GAME AWAY?
It’s always a possibility, but people are generally very good at not spoiling it. His family wanted to see a change so had the motivation to keep it a secret, and his friends were up for it too. When we choose the person to use, we also vet family members and anyone else we need to bring in to make sure there’s no one there that might concern us from that point of view. So far, fingers crossed, it’s never happened.
CAN YOU REALLY HYPNOTISE SOMEONE THAT QUICKLY AS YOU DID ON THE BUS?
Not completely from scratch, no. It does look impossibly quick. However, as we explained in the programme, one of the reasons we chose him because he was highly responsive to suggestion, which allows me to get him used (during the audition process) to the suggestion of going to sleep on command. You see him zonked out at the start of episode one, in the auditions. Once that’s in-built, it’s easy enough to trigger off again, weeks or even months in the future. His hyper-alert and confused state following the meteor attack, plus the total out-of-context surprise of my voice and person being suddenly present, really help too. There was no way we could start and finish the stunt without putting him to sleep on those occasions, so it was necessary to get him conditioned to this early on.
WHAT IF HE HAD ATTACKED ONE OF THE INFECTED?
We removed everything that he could have feasibly used as a weapon, and controlled those scenes very carefully so that he would have neither the motivation nor the chance to do so. The whole idea, remember, was not to get close to them for fear of contact or contagion. Attacking them would be the last thing you’d want to do. Plus of course the actors knew to control him if anything like that happened.
IS STEVEN GOING TO BE OK?
Of course. Watch to the end of the show this Friday. We vet our participants – using independent experts – very carefully to make sure they’re robust enough for this kind of thing, and we had medics and a psychiatrist watching him 24hrs. We take our duty of care very seriously.
HOW DID YOU GET THIS PAST THE ETHICS COMMITTEE? YOU WOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO DO IT
I get this one a lot. Such committees exist only for clinical experiments. For TV, there are lawyers and health and safety people who of course must be involved. We make sure that they are happy, and the lawyers are involved in all stages of the show to make sure the viewers aren’t misled and that everything is above board. We take every possible care to ensure that our guy will be okay throughout the process and after, and the C4 lawyers and independent psychologists we have on board are a big part of that. He is carefully taken through a powerful experience that brings him to a much better place – the result is a hugely positive one for him. In many years of making these sorts of things happen, people have always been exhilarated and delighted. No-one has PTSD or flashbacks or any of the other things I get asked about, as it’s always a hugely positive, much-valued, hopefully life-changing experience for them.
WHAT EFFECT DID THIS HAVE ON STEVE? AND ANYONE ELSE INVOLVED?
Again, you should watch Ep 2 to see how he turns out. But I don’t end my involvement when the show is over. I have kept in close contact with Matt Galley from Hero, and the same with Steve. It’s important to me that these shows do the job they’re supposed to – plus after becoming so attached to someone during the process it’s hard to just thank them and walk away. These people end up becoming my friends and that’s part of the joy of making the shows. And yes,we were all affected by the show one way or another – it was quite emotional for all of us watching it in the truck. But, you must see it through to the end.
We all survived. Steven is a finer Steven than before: despite a week of negative Twitter speculation reported disingenuously in the Sun, he really did do it and he really is a better man for it. For those wondering what has happened to him since, Steven now works as a teaching assistant in a special-needs school, a job he finds much more rewarding than the series of positions he held before. And I think in time he’ll make an excellent teacher. For now he’s keeping his Twitter and FaceBook set to private, but I’m sure before too long he’ll open them up and you’ll be able to ask him about his experience.
The show was, as many of you spotted, The Wizard of Oz with zombies. Our Dorothy (you’ll have noted the Kansas Autos sign on our mechanic’s van who visits Steven’s house) did not seek a place over the rainbow, but nonetheless had to learn that there is no place like home. With some extra motivation and carpe diem thrown in: L. Frank Baum’s message that you don’t need to go looking anywhere further than your own back yard always struck me as a little limiting. After the tornado/apocalypse, our Dorothy encounters Leona – of course a cheap play on ‘lion’ – to discover courage and responsibility, a scarecrow (Iain) who becomes indecisive and necessitates a new alpha-male in the group, and a tin-man (Danny) who, having no heart, makes it necessary for Steven to find his own. The Yellow Brecon Road awaits to take Steven to salvation, but it is Oscar Zulu from Emerald Communications – the wizard (ahem) behind the curtain – who provides the noisy, army equivalent of his hot air balloon to take them away. You’ll have spotted the graphic on the side of the helicopter. Like Dorothy, Steven is left behind: before he can return home he has to say what he has learnt from his experience, and what he has known all along. Which he does, movingly, in the video tape he makes for his family. To encourage this moment, we had him see the others do the same and held the camera held back from him until he was ready. That done, and his lesson learnt, cue the deus ex machina of the phone call (I know now I should have floated down in Glinda’s bubble for absolute authenticity) and he’s magically transported back home to a life now dramatically reassessed.
Writing a show with an unscripted, unwitting central character is a strange and demanding task. My co-creators Iain Sharkey (himself a freaked-out participant in my Séance programme many years ago where we first met) and Stephen Long worked on the idea with me in the first instance, before Mark Gatiss got involved to help find possibilities for narrative. The massive bulk of the extraordinary writing task was then shared by Iain and a gifted, lovely writer called Ben Teasdale, both of whom gave heart and soul to the project. Sharkey can be seen starring as the first we see of the ‘infected’, behind the window in the red tag building. His condition of butt-nakedness-save-for-a-backless-hospital-gown was sadly lost in the gloomy lighting of the sequence, but I’m sure it added to Steven’s growing sense of deathly horror.
For my production team to make it all happen took a level of dedication and love almost unheard of in the industry. Working 30 days without a break, spending nights awake in Steven’s shed waiting to pull a plug to his television, they were stretched beyond anything one would expect anyone to put into making a television show. Samuel Palmer and Dave Struthers in particular – both brilliant and talented core members of our little family – deserve special mention here. Dave’s Twitter feed over the last week was a tirade of fury at the glib, uninformed assurances of fraud after the endless work he and Sam put into the hugely demanding job of secretly filming Steven over such a long period of time. I bow to the extraordinary level of commitment and resolve shown by the whole team, who were bonded above all by a desire to do right by Steven. It was a formidable show to make.
And it’s not over yet. Next week brings two more shows under the banner Derren Brown: Fear and Faith. In part one, airing this Friday at 9, we follow the first members of the public to take a wonder-drug, developed for the military, that completely eradicates the experience of fear. It was another astonishing journey. I hope you enjoy it.
INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN BROSNAN FROM APOCALYPSE
Steven Brosnan talks to Carlotta Eden about his night-terrors, sexual dysfunction and zombie-flashbacks in his first published interview since Apocalypse. Interview here.
Below we have a lovely Q&A by that young layabout from Derren Brown: Apocalypse (YEAH, DERREN BROWN: APOCALYPSE NOT STEVEN BROSNAN:APOCALYPSE THOUGH YOU’D NEVER GUESS IT WOULD YOU?). Steven asked his now roughly 15,000 followers on Twitter to send in any questions they wanted to about his experience and he has answered the most common ones below. I’m posting it here for him exactly as he wrote it, as he doesn’t have a blog.
Meanwhile, part 2 of Fear and Faith – and the final instalment of this year’s television from your occasional blogger – happens this Friday at 9.
I sent out a tweet asking if there was anything you felt that was unanswered, I’ve answered a few of the most popular questions to try and help ease your understanding.
Why didn’t you attack the ‘infected’?
I get asked this the most. You have to remember that this is not a Hollywood movie, I’m not Bruce Willis. This was real and I’m not a violent person. When watching the news report, they said the infection could be passed by any form of contact. I wanted to avoid any possible interaction with the ‘infected’ and stay as far away from them as possible and fortunately there was no situation in which I had to defend myself or anyone else from them.
At any point did you think it was fake?
No, everything I went through I was fully immersed in what I was doing. I was in the middle of an apocalypse and I was trying to get back to my family in Wales before the border shut.
Are there any negative effects?
There are no negative effects what so ever. No nightmares or flashbacks. Everything I have gained from this event in my life has been positive and I’m glad I went through it all to change me into the person I am now.
Were you angry at the reveal?
No not at all, relief and happiness were the main emotions going on when everything was revealed. Looking back on my experience I have no regrets or bad feelings towards anyone involved.
Did you ever think of giving up?
No, not at all. The biggest thought in my mind was getting to Brecon.
What did Derren say to you on the phone to make you fall asleep?
I don’t know, simply put. Last thing I remember is picking up the phone off the table.
What was your scariest moment?
Definitely encountering my first ‘infected’ in hospital.
What did I think of the infected?
I was ruddy scared of them, but when they weren’t scaring me I did feel kind of sorry for them, not knowing fully what they were and thinking I wouldn’t want to be one of them.
What was it like watching myself?
It was a little weird, as I watched I could feel the same emotions from when I was there. But overall I was quite comfortable with it.
Did you find anything embarrassing?
Yeah of course, think it’s embarrassing when one person catches you picking your nose? Try a whole nation, I laughed it off though.
What did I eat and drink?
There was tons of canned food in the bunker, and plenty bottles of water.
Where did I go to the toilet?
Surprisingly popular question. In the program you can see a row of portable loos to the right of the bunker entrance, that’s where I went.
Was there anything they didn’t show?
Yeah I made a few hilarious jokes which never made the cut. But as you could imagine with almost 2 days of filming me there was a lot of footage and with only 2 hours to show it, they can’t have everything in there, really though there was nothing extra I wish they could have put in, the editing team did a great job.
Is my bedroom tidy now?
My bedroom is incredibly tidy now; it’s hard to have a clear mind with a dirty room.
Did you ever get to see The Killers?
Yes! I did! They were amazing! Derren and the team were very kind and managed to get some tickets for me. I was very wary of getting on any busses this time though.
The 2014 leg of Infamous starts on Tuesday in Brighton. It’s all very exciting. If you’re coming to see it, I really hope you enjoy the show – a lot of work and love goes into it. In the past I’ve always done my best to come out to stage door after and sign things and say hello, but this year, the eleventh year (I think) of touring, I’m going to have to stop doing that. This is a big shame, at least for me, as I always enjoy meeting people after the shows and I’m so grateful to anyone who buys a ticket and comes out to see it. The reason is – as some of you will know who have come on nights when I haven’t been able to come outside – my voice. Last year I had to cancel a couple of shows in the West End which is an appalling business, and I’m determined not to let that happen again. For weeks before that, my voice was a mess and I was back and forth to the hospital getting fixed up as well as I could. Looking after my voice is a big part of the show – hence I do a lot of vocal training and the like. And this is the longest tour I will have done. The moment my voice gets tired, I have to go into shut-down mode: no hanging around outside, no talking, a strangely monastic existence until the next show begins. The result last year was that on about, I don’t know, a third of the tour dates I couldn’t go out afterwards. Whereas I used to find 10-20 people and I would spend proper time having a nice relaxed chat, the numbers are now more like 60-100 people, which is amazing and wonderful, but I can no longer chat and sign AND be sure to keep my voice in shape for a six month tour of a two-hour one-man show six nights a week.
I apologise hugely to anyone who was hoping to say hello. I hope you’ll understand even if it’s a bit disappointing. There’ll be some who for whatever reason will be unable to summon any understanding, and will treat this as me just ‘not being bothered’. Most times I’ve apologised in the past for not coming out to sign, I’ve read similar comments telling me I’m just selfish and lazy, and that I owe it to my fans to spend time with them afterwards etc. That’ll happen again of course, and there’s not much I can do other than offer this explanation and apology. I promise that in the past I’ve spent far more time after shows with people than any other performer I know. This isn’t a lazy choice, and the thing I definitely do owe to fans is to put on the best show I possibly can, which is what this is about preserving. Any of you who work in theatre will already understand how this voice business is, and I hope any others of you who had hoped to say hello will understand too. And above all that you enjoy the show.