The Null Device

Something Wicked This Way Comes

I went to see Derren Brown's show, Something Wicked This Way Comes tonight, at the Cambridge Theatre in Covent Garden. It was pretty interesting.

For those not familiar with him, Brown is a mentalist whose act includes reading and influencing people using various psychological techniques. In this show, which went for about two hours and was in two parts, he did things including influencing volunteers to select specific cards/envelopes and "guess" things, presumably from suggestions he had subliminally planted. He also did an act in which he determined when people were lying. Five volunteers drew balls from a bag, and the four who got white balls (which was unknown to him) were told to lie in answering a question; Brown then determined who was lying by observing their body language.

During the second half of the show, he started off with a few fakir-like acts of physical endurance (hammering a nail into his nose and walking on broken glass). The best part was at the end, where he successfully "predicted" a word selected seemingly at random; and then, using video replays, demonstrated how he had done it. All I'll say is: pay close attention.

Derren Brown is performing until Saturday or so, and is (IMHO) well worth seeing.

There are 6 comments on "Something Wicked This Way Comes":

Posted by: amby http:// Wed Jun 29 09:56:09 2005

Hmmm... very similar to the tv show then...

My friend who works at a magic shop that most of his psychological tricks are just classic mentalist stunts repackaged, but magicians like him anyway because the application of the secret is very clever even by magical standards.

Posted by: acb Wed Jun 29 11:22:17 2005

He also uses a fair amount of techniques from NLP and Ericksonian hypnosis, from what I gather.

Posted by: toby http:// Wed Jun 29 23:30:20 2005

So why not post your analysis of what you saw? I'm curious, but not in a position to do anything about it.

Posted by: acb Wed Jun 29 23:43:50 2005

Well, he asked people not to reveal what happens during the show, but...

the punchline at the end is that, throughout the show, he had been planting various suggestions in the audience's minds. For example, the selected member of the audience had to choose a newspaper and a page from it (which simplifies it somewhat), and another one had the task of tearing the page up, and he planted the suggestion that they choose a certain paper and page, and tear around a specific word, with various phrases in the middle of other patter, which, at the time, the audience's conscious minds auto-corrected to other meanings or dismissed as misheard. (I.e., "There are brochures which advertise courses where you can *PAGE 13* thousand pounds to become a psychic..."). Done several times, with different words, this subconsciously primes people to choose in a certain way.

Posted by: toby http:// Thu Jun 30 01:13:07 2005

I'd really like to see it done. More accurately, I'd really like to see it done to me. Do you have any feeling for whether there are classes of people for whom it does and doesn't work?

Posted by: acb Thu Jun 30 10:26:10 2005

There probably are. Keep in mind that Brown uses misdirection to keep your attention elsewhere, and you don't know exactly what to expect. He is probably also careful to select promising-looking subjects; I imagine that, if his act involves getting someone to choose the Daily Mail, he wouldn't select people who look like earnest left-wingers or self-classified intellectuals.

There are two Derren Brown DVDs, which should be available from and such. I have the first one, and it is fairly interesting. He also has some short video clips on his web site.