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.

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.

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.

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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.




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.