Category: Theatre

Derren Brown

I’m writing this a few days after the event, just in case there were any lingering effects. I fear my mind may never quite recover…

Note: NO SPOILERS INCLUDED.

I’ve seen most, if not all, of Derren Brown’s TV shows. From the one off specials to the early series that were broadcast in a late evening slot on Ch4. He is not without controversy and I’ll happily admit to, still, remaining sceptical about how he does what he does; is it magic, is it manipulation, are there stooges involved, is it all fake?

Or perhaps it’s a little bit of everything? He is first and foremost as he readily admits, a showman, he is trying to entertain using methods and tricks that can be learned. A lot of the show is based on suggestion, on convincing an audience, or a few members of it, to go along with something even though they aren’t really sure why.

It helps that he is engaging, smart and quick-witted – helpful when something goes wrong, which it did… or may have?… the night we saw him (I have yet to discuss this with friends who were there the following evening!) – and the careful layering of ideas, coupled with alleged explanations of what he is doing, even down to the vaudeville style stage tricks (with a gorilla) all make his show a very entertaining evening.

Mind you I’m not convinced that any of the explanations offered were completely true, nor am I convinced about that ‘mistake’. A fumbled word here, a mis-step there, is it all part of the show, all designed to keep us a little unsure and off-balance?

Ultimately, whilst I have some understanding of how he does what he does (I guessed two things correctly) it’s still a very impressive mix of techniques and skills that delivers some mind-bending results. One word continually sprang to mind as I sat there in disbelief; HOW?

If you’ve watched any of his TV shows you’ll have seen some of the acts he performed before – this is a greatest hits kinda tour – and whilst each segment of the show stands on its own, the very final reveal confirms it’s been carefully planned all along and that you have been manipulated from the minute you walked in and sat down.

Ohhh and what a final reveal, it’s a double whammy that builds on one ‘impossible’ finale to before delivery a second that beggars belief, and I definitely wasn’t the only one, you could feel the slow build of realisation ripples through the audience… is that… did he… but he said… accompanied by gasps, faces held in hands, mouths agape… (OK, that was mostly just me).

What a wonderful evening of mind boggling entertainment. Part of the fun in seeing him perform live was seeing if I could spot anything, anything you couldn’t catch on TV. I think for the hour and a half I caught maybe two or three little moments, but even now I’m not sure if they mean, or meant, anything at all.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to lie down in a dark room for a few days.

Slava’s Snowshow

…ONE DAY I realised that I wanted to create a show that would take us back to our childhood dreams; A show which would help spectators be released from the jail of adulthood and rediscover their forgotten childhood.

Slava Polunin – creator of Slava’s Snow Show

A few weeks back a friend popped up on Facebook and asked if anyone fancied going to see Slava’s Snow Show. I’d seen a few clips of it from last year and immediately said yes. Roll forward to yesterday evening and I realised, as we took our seats, I didn’t really know what the show was about.

And I’m still not entirely sure today.

Aside from the main character, an old droopy clown in bright yellow, there are six other performers, all dressed similarly in green gowns, large clown feet and hats. They come and go, sometimes as integral parts of the performance, sometimes just to provide a moment of hilarity.

There is no dialogue to speak of but none is needed. This is largely a physical performance and, with the exception of one telephone exchange (which may be in Russian but the vocalisation doesn’t matter) the full range of emotions are expressed in a slow, controlled way, a tilt of a head, a lean of a shoulder, a beatific smile, or a simple look to the audience.

Nor is there a story as such, just a variety of set pieces that gently nudge you along, providing delight after delight. At times it teeters on the brink of something akin to tragedy, and the slightly grotesque quality of the performers adds a wonderful dark tone when needed, but then a sudden burst of physicality transforms the piece and you realise you’ve sat, rapt, with your own huge smile across your face the entire time.

Naturally what will stick in the mind of many are the prop driven extravaganzas, with the intermission preceded by a large cobweb type blanket being stretched from the stage all the way to the back of the stalls, the audience passing it over their hands and becoming one in the tangle of the fibres (which made the dash to the bar all the more interesting).

And then the finale. The weather turns, Slava is confronted with a snowstorm and suddenly giant fans start up, blasting the audience and filling the theatre with snow. Sitting in your chair, the air ripples past you, and you watch the oncoming snow storm until you are in it, with snow catching in your clothes as it swirls around you. It’s utterly utterly magical.

It turns out that Slava’s Snowshow isn’t really about the exceptional clown performances on stage, isn’t about the clever staging and use of props, and it isn’t about the perfect comic timing on display; watching a man fall off a chair three times in a row doesn’t SOUND funny but was hilarious.

At the end of the show, with massive inflatable spheres bouncing around over the audience, all I could see where smiling, happy, carefree faces. From the opening bars of La Petite Fille De La Mar (which wonderful encapsulates the off-kilter world you are about to enter) I was transformed from a curious adult looking for a diversion on a cold Wednesday evening, to a child, playing with a balloon in my parents front room at Christmas.

And, as the man himself said, that’s what the show is all about, and what a wonderful time we had rediscovering those childhood joys.