Derren Brown: TV Specials

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DERREN BROWN: Svengali broadcast on C4 on 18 September, 2012

Act I

  • DB's voice comes over the sound system and explains who Svengali was: rather than being the character from the de Maurier novel Trilby, DB reveals it was the name given to an Hungarian automaton built in 1760 to resemble a six year old boy. The automaton was used in performances and tapped out words using letters on a board and it appeared to possess members of its audience. It creator, Hugo von Lafascht, became obsessive over his creation and died penniless. The automaton disappeared but resurfaced at an auction in Philadelphia five years ago when it was bought anonymously and its location today is apparently unknown.
  • DB comes on stage smartly dressed but he is only wearing one shoe; the other is apparently hidden in one of three boxes on stage. He plays his first round of 'Derren, please tell me where I might find your other shoe' with the entire audience, using the volume of their applause to decide which box they think his shoe is in. He duly opens #3, it is not there; he then opens #2 as the second choice, but it is then found in #1. DB wins the game.
  • DB plays a second round, but this time uses a couple to select the box; he apparently manipulates their choice with his language and their ultimate joint decision is #3, changed to #1. Both #1 and #3 are wrong and it is found in #2.
  • DB picks a single volunteer whose birthday is is (or is recent or is imminent) who then writes down the box in which she believes the shoe is hidden. DB predicts that she has chosen #3 and is correct. He then tells her that the shoe is not in #1 and gives her the opportunity to change her choice to #2. At this point, he explains the Maths behind this option which indicates when given such a choice the volunteer should always change their mind. She does not change her choice and duly looses as the shoe is shown to be in #2.
  • DB explains that there are 1499 people in the audience and that before the show started they were all invited to write down an embarrassing secret and put it in a bowl on stage. One is picked and sealed in an envelope. Everyone is then asked to picture their guilty secret and a drum of 1499 plastic discs corresponding to all the seats in the auditorium is brought out. A disc is picked and DB reads the person to identify their secret correctly.
  • Pens and paper are handed out to members of the audience in the first few rows and they are asked to write down the name of someone famous. A member of the audience who cannot, but would like to be able to, paint - Anthony - is selected. Anthony then picks a name from the sheets and keeps it secret. DB then discusses his hobby of portrait painting. DB then gives a demonstration of muscle reading as Anthony holds his wrist. Having established the rapport with Anthony, a paper bag is placed over Anthony's head and he is asked to picture the famous person. Anthony is going to guide DB as DB paints the portrait of the - as yet - unidentified person. DB duly paints a smiley face on a large canvas to general amusement, but then turns it into the outline of a face. DB asks Anthony a couple of questions to clarify details and DB continues to work on the picture on his own. When DB apparently finishes the portrait, he rotates it through 180 degrees and a face is clearly revealed. As Anthony's bag is removed he shouts out the name he has been thinking - Elvis Presley - and the picture matches.
  • The audience is then told that they will find pen and paper beneath their seats and to take part in the next half they need to write the number 0-9 on it during the interval.
  • DB returns to the confession sealed in the envelope: it is read aloud and the whole audience is told to stand. DB duly eliminates the majority of the audience using various criteria including gender, age, and body language until he has three possible perpetrators. He whittles them down to one and the remaining person standing admits to being the guilty individual.

Act II

  • DB reminds the audience of the details of the automaton Svengali and reveals that it was he who bought it and has now restored it and will use it in the show. He shows the clockwork responding to him ringing a bell as the automaton's head turns round.
  • DB shows the maker's mark engraved on the automaton's right hand and this is the same as a stamp many members of the audience have been given on their right palm during the interval. The audience members are told to raise their right hand and focus on the stamp and DB explains how their fingers and arms will become rigid like the automaton's. Several people find themselves unable to move their hand and they are asked to stand up. DB then rings the bell again and the automaton's hand rises. As it does, so do the hands of some of the standing audience members. DB goes into the audience to ask people what it feels like and selects a volunteer - Matt - who is an ideal subject.
  • DB shows the connection between Matt and Svengali by locking Matt's feet to the stage, preventing him from being able to speak by 'locking his vocal cords', and showing Matt's hand moving at the same time as Svengali's. Matt is then sat in a wheelchair, 'asleep'. The connection between them is demonstrated again: as DB taps Svengali, Matt is able to feel taps on his arms and shoulders (apparently the Catholic Church tried to exorcise the doll in 1873). Matt is given a blackboard and chalk, and one of the doll's props - a handkerchief with initials embroidered into it - is shown. The embroidered initials are DS: Svengali duly points to these two letter on his board (without any intervention from DB) and the Matt writes the letters DS on his blackboard. Matt is woken up and the connection between the two is explained to him.
  • DB removed Svengali's hand and wants to try something as a result of the empathy between Matt and the doll. Matt is told that he cannot feel the skin on the back of his hand and under DB's intruction he pushes a needle through a fold on skin and then removes it, all without feeling anything or drawing blood.
  • Abby (the birthday girl) is brought to stage for a 'reconstruction of clairvoyance'. A hundred balloons are dropped from above the stage: Abby is told to pick one and the rest are then blown out into the audience. Abby then picks three people with different coloured balloons to come to the stage. The pieces of paper (in four different colours matching the balloons) written on during the interval are then collected and Abby picks three at random to throw out to people in the front row. DB introduces the idea of the TARG experiment, apparently carried out on 25 Feb 1968 in America with 9027 participants (the details are displayed on a screen at the back of the stage) and it was, apparently, an experiment into randomness. With this the three balloon volunteers are all placed behind a table on which there are the numbers 0-9 in the four different paper colours (Red - Yellow - Green - Blue), and they are given the task of picking the same numbers the members of the front row of the audience have been given by Abby. The odds of them getting it right are apparently one in 280,063,590,219. The balloon volunteers duly select their blocks and DB then stacks them (from the bottom) as Red - Yellow - Green - Blue. Only one of them matches the choices held by the audience, proving that "clairvoyance is bollocks".
  • However, DB reveals that people's unconscious is at work as the first stack from the bottom reads 2502 (which could be the 25 Feb), the second reads 1968 (matching the year still on display) and the third reads 9030 (the number of original participants plus the new three).
  • DB then reveals that each balloon contains a raffle ticket with a four digit number. All the audience burst their balloons, but none match the four digit numbers picked on stage. The balloon voluteers burst their balloons and their tickets match the blocks they chose. DB then reveals that if the blocks are read from left to right, they match the apparent odds of this experiment working accurately.
  • Confident in the successes thus far, DB explains that Abby's balloon will contain a raffle ticket with a personalised message on it for her. It doesn't. The audience are all asked to check their tickets. Things have apparently not worked out. However a balloon is spotted stuck in the mechanism at the top of the stage. As the message is nowhere, it is the logical conclusion it must be in this balloon. In a seemingly improvised manner, DB climbs the set (nearly falling at one point) to rescue the balloon. The balloon duly contains a message, and as DB descends a banner is unfurled with the number 1499: this is number on Abby's personalised balloon as is also the number of people in this evening's audience.

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