Fascinating and terrifying in equal measures, psychological illusionist Derren Brown's live shows are an amazing spectacle.
So lucky fans are in for a treat next week when Derren arrived back in West Yorkshire for a run of six performances of his MIRACLE at the Grand Theatre in Leeds.
Derren told us about the show, the controversy surrounding his recent TV stunts and what's to come in the future.
Derren, this is the second leg of the MIRACLE your, following a hugely successful West End run. Are you looking forward to being on the road again?
"Enormously. I’m only getting a 3 week break after the west end - just enough to catch my breath and maybe get away for a bit. It’s an enormously enjoyable show to do, and I’ve never toured straight after the west end before, which I think will be fun as it’s in such good shape. I can’t wait to get started."
What are the biggest challenges for you doing this show?
I had no idea if the second half would work at all when we started. In theory, my audiences are totally the wrong audiences to get to the place I need to get them to. As there's no way of testing how an audience will respond without having an audience, I just had to get up there and do it on the first night and see how it went. It went very well, which was a huge relief. It still needed a lot of work, and after a week or two of shifting and polishing things, the show felt right. Since then we’ve continued to work on it and now it feels terrific - a very long way from its opening week in Dartford last year. It’s a bold and ‘ballsy’ second half, as all my favourite things are. Once I realised it was going to work well - as it could have failed flat on its face - it’s been a joy to work on theatrically and get to a great place.
MIRACLE has certainly captured the public’s imagination and ignited a lot of comment within the media. What would you say separates this show from previous tours?
Without getting too much into the content, this is the first show that is about things I find important. Others have had autobiographical bits in them, some more authentic than others, but this one is about things I find important. It has a philosophical underpinning I really care about. It’s ultimately, I suppose, about what makes us happier.
You’ve recently caused a bit of a stir with your latest TV special Pushed to the Edge. You appear to have pushed a lot of buttons! What do you make of the various reactions?
I haven’t seen them! People I’ve spoken to seem to think it’s one of the best things I’ve done, which is lovely to hear. But I switch off from any media (or social media) response after TV shows go out. It’s a show that makes you feel uncomfortable, which of course means that some quarters will peddle their peculiar brand of outrage. I suppose that’s a sign that it’s worked. More than that I keep away from, and am happy to not know what the reactions are. If I like it, and the participants have got something out of it, then I’m happy.
Is it true that this is the last year you’ll be on tour in the UK for a while?
Yes it is. It’s been 14 years of touring, and that’s with writing a new show every 2 years. I may do something overseas for a change, but nothing major here in 2017. After that I’m not sure. I love touring so I don’t imagine I’m stopping for good quite yet. But a break would be lovely, not so much from the touring itself, but from the creation of new shows. It’s a lot of work getting them up to speed.
What will you miss most about life on the road – besides the coffee shops!
I enjoy the ease of having group of friends: it’s something I’ve never had socially. I choose my team based more than anything on how delightful they are to spend time with. Having a drink and a chat after the show as we all wind down is just wonderful. I like the change from week to week. One city feels like home, like you’ve been there forever, and then you’re off and it all starts again. That’s fun, I like changes of scene. And Sunday roasts as we travel from one city to another. Then there’s ‘day-off socks’: we have to wear black socks for the show so we go wild on Sundays and try to outdo each other with the wildest socks we can find. We’re pretty rock ’n’ roll like that. I think the Stones did the same in the 70s.
There’s talk of a Broadway show. Do you feel it’s now time for you to perform ‘live’ outside of the UK?
I’ve only ever wanted to do what’s enjoyable, and a couple of months - or whatever it will be - in New York, performing for people who don’t really know me, sounds like huge fun. So no plans to ‘conquer the US’ or move abroad, just a nice thing to have there opportunity to do. We’re in talks with theatres now, and the plan is to put together a show for a first-time audience. It’s different here now: people know me, and bring certain expectations, which deeply affects the material of the show. It’ll be interesting seeing what to put together for people who don’t arrive highly suggestible…
Can you give us the latest progress report on your book about happiness? Can we expect it to be published in 2016?
I’m hoping so, yes. I’m editing it now and trying to get it down from 800 pages to something more manageable. I’ll miss writing it though - nothing compares to spending a stolen afternoon assembling your thoughts and finding the best language for them. It’s very edifying, and I feel I am at my best when I write. Once the book is on the shelf I move on and forget about it: I can’t ever read it in case I find errors or places where my thoughts have changed. Previous books have been whimsical and quick to write: this has been very involved and long-term for me. The challenge at the moment is to bring three years’ worth of thought and writing (that happened here and there when I had time on the road and between other projects) into something that hangs together well.
Finally, Derren Brown’s Ghost Train opens in May 2016. Excited? What do you hope people will get out of it?
I hope it’ll scare and delight in equal measure. It’s been a huge project and an extraordinary opportunity to have fun with the latest technology and let my imagination run wild. Nothing of its kind exists, so I’ll be eager to hear from the first people who ride it and find out what they make of it. If all goes well, it’ll be amazing. I can’t wait to get on it myself (at the time of writing, we’re still putting the finishing touches to it).