THE publicity for Derren Brown’s visit to Newcastle next week dubs him “the award-winning master of psychological illusion”. Would many of his audience recognise this description of a performer who regularly tests the boundaries of magic and mind manipulation?

“It was the psychology that interested me before I started doing the sleight of hand tricks and I sort of ended up doing mind-reading and somewhere between suggestion and psychological techniques and conjuring,” says Brown.

He’s backtracked a little about his projects having a science base and now stresses that the science refers to magic techniques and “it’s science as opposed to psychic ability or anything like that. That’s where I draw the line. It’s a mixture of conjuring and hypnotic techniques and that was my first love.

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“You get people to form a certain story in their heads about what you’re doing. It’s kind of like being a magician with a toolkit rather than cards and clever boxes. I don’t mind people thinking of it as magic as long as it’s not seen as in the supernatural sense,” he says.

He laughs when I describe his latest show, Underground, as his greatest hits album, because Brown has returned to his 17 years of television and theatre shows to re-run some of his favourite moments.

“Underground was born out of getting a show together to go to other countries. I did a work-shopping period in London using things I’d done here previously. I didn’t advertise it much and just tried things out. The show ended up as one of the strongest I’d done and audiences seemed to really go for it because they’d either not seen it before or they were die-hard fans who wanted to see it again,” Brown says.

“This is a show without me saying, ‘Remember this?’ or whatever. This is a smaller tour than I normally do, but I ended up loving this as a show and I think it’s the best I’ve done. There is a long list of things I haven’t put in. The three of us, who write the shows, put together all the ideas for a certain form, or shape, but not everything was going to go in. In the end it was a question of finding a tone... and I’ve got at least enough material for another one,” he adds.

Asked about professional achievements, Brown is proudest of his television work where he’s genuinely helped people who were going through dark experiences. “In terms of the stage shows, I’m proudest of reworking routines and presenting them better than before. That’s very satisfying, particularly when I see people enjoying things,” he says.

Does he regard his ability as a gift or gained through sheer hard work? “I think it’s like playing the piano. It’s something that anyone can do, but probably not everyone is going to do it. You have to have certain things in place in terms of the environment. I was insecure enough to want to perform when I was a student and hypnosis ticks a lot of boxes because you want to feel in control. There’s almost an unconscious motivation that drives you and then you must find the time to do it. I was able to just about earn a living at first. I don’t think you’re born with it,” Brown says.

There is still that publicity-seeking side to Brown which sees him trying mind control “experiments” on people involving pushing someone off a building, playing Russian roulette or stealing a work of art from a gallery.

Does anyone operate in the role of asking: “Do we really want to do this?”

“There’s normally a period of a couple of weeks when we have to come up with an idea. I sit down with a little group and we talk about it. Normally, what I’m looking for is a dramatic hook that would make people want to watch a show. There have been the madder ideas of convincing someone that the world has come to an end or playing Russian roulette. That comes out of a frustration after talking around a few ideas, none of which feel right, when someone, normally me, says, ‘Why can’t we just push someone off a building?’ Then, the others says, ‘Wow, that’s actually quite good’. It normally feels, at first, like it’s too mad or too over the top, but then we think about it and know that this is an idea that’s going to stick.

“After the Apocalypse programme I did the one about the pensioners stealing a painting because I know you have to keep things interesting and vary the tone.”

Brown admits that he’s considering new ideas because he hasn’t staged a TV extravaganza for about 18 months now.

Having generated one of the most complained TV programmes, Seance in 2004, he claims to avoid criticism of his shows on social media and in the newspapers. “Even if you read 100 lovely things about you, it’s the one bad one you remember. You are never really reading a fair reflection of what people think. The papers have an agenda to sell more papers and turn things into dramas and controversies that weren’t there. On Twitter you’re reading things with regard to what people want to feel outraged about. I think you just take a step back and view it at arm’s length, that’s a much better barometer,” he says.

Brown feels that there was hardly anyone doing his style of showmanship when he gained fame in 2000, but now has plenty of competition because “I am the magician that they grew up with. I’ve only been motivated by what seems worthwhile. If you’re fixated about being better known then I think you run the risk of going mad. I remember being a magician in Bristol for about ten years before there seemed to be any others. I found that odd. I tend to focus on what is happening in the here and now. Success, fame and riches never seem to arrive and announce themselves. If those are your goals, they just seem to move further and further away.”

And his first love is still stage shows, even though Brown is aware that ten per cent of the time he may have no control over audience participation. “Everything up to that point has manipulated this situation, but there are areas that breath and change from night to night and I’m working with people chosen randomly from an audience. That’s the fun side. People are coming up who are confused and bewildered about being on stage. So it’s a volatile situation. I’m a bit like a swan that looks serene, but its feet are desperately paddling away under the surface.”

Derren Brown: Underground, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Monday, August 7 to Wednesday, August 9. Box office: 08448-112121 or theatreroyal.co.uk