Derren Brown’s psychological illusions move to their logical extreme in this live show recorded on his 2016 tour. After years of tricking people into doing or believing things, he (like Penn & Teller) sets his sights firmly on faith healers, proving their supposedly miraculous workings to be nothing more than parlour tricks to get money from believers.
It’s a superbly chosen premise by Brown, who enjoys debunking as much as he does distracting audiences from what he’s doing. Over his career, he’s carefully cultivated a combination of logic and rigorous common sense and the idea that he can control people’s minds and influence the way they think – he dares people to believe one thing, but only by convincing them not to believe something else; magic rooted in the mundane. And so Miracle opens with a string of mildly diverting gags and stunts, from the old nail-in-a-bag routine to predicting what people around the theatre will write on a piece of paper – a classic that he presents banking on the pull of its familiar format.
Then, he steps up a gear to the big leagues, healing people of minor ailments. The first half serves as reminder that his psychological powers are an illusion altogether, but seemingly taking away a sceptic’s ability to read a programme for his show is the kind of touch that leaves even the most doubting of Thomases questioning what’s going on.
Brown’s charisma is in full force throughout, mocking and encouraging volunteers from the crowd and pretending to talk in tongues. Life is a piece of music, he argues. Enjoying the journey as it plays out is the point. Sure enough, he dances rings around everyone else on stage. The result is surprising, bewildering and annoying in the way the best magic tricks can be – a masterclass in presentation and misdirection.
Derren Brown: Miracle is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.