So many people want to see Derren Brown on Wearside that he’s booked for a week at the Sunderland Empire. Steve Pratt finds out why SO, WHAT exactly would you call Derren Brown? “Master of psychological illusion” is how he’s billed ahead of next week’s appearance at Sunderland Empire with his new show, Infamous. Mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer and sceptic are other words applied to a man that his own press release offers “mind-bending maestro”.

Perhaps it’s best to ask him? If it was still required to put your profession on your passport, what would he say? “Entertainer,” he replies.

“It makes it a lot easier. I do entertain on stage, but it’s a more documentary-style on TV.”

He’s been called less kind names in print and on Twitter but he’s used to that. Anyone who makes such a public living out of mind games faces such criticism. You can’t, for instance, play Russian roulette live on TV and not expect someone to say you’re faking it.

“I always get things like that and accept it,”

he says. He points out that people who go on stage to participate in his mind games are randomly chosen. That makes his job a lot more difficult, but it’s not fixed.

As he’s said in the past, “I am often dishonest in my techniques but I’m always honest about my dishonesty”.

Like everyone else, he has good nights and bad nights at work. Things don’t always go to plan but can often be incorporated in the next night’s show. “We try and make it so that even if it’s a bad night a lot of the mistakes won’t be noticed. The nature of what I do means it doesn’t work 100 per cent.”

The new Infamous tour, playing 81 dates across the UK including a two-month London season, reunites this “dark manipulator of magic and mind control” with close collaborator and friend, actor and writer Andy Nyman.

Nyman has worked on all of Brown’s tours, except his most recent one, the Olivier awardwinning Svengali, last year. “They’ve largely followed a similar template, but when we got back together we thought we should change.

People coming on stage and being part of the show is still there, but the tone is more stripped down, very personal. I like that,” he explains.

“It’s a little braver in the concept of the show.

We’re not going with that whole established format. It’s always been important that we do the show in theatres and it’s not just a guy doing tricks or someone showing off.”

He wants people to be involved, not just him standing on stage showing how clever he is.

“That’s not entertaining, that can be annoying,” he says. “Hopefully our format creates feeling and moments that are more interesting and richer than just a magician doing an act.”

He believes there’s a note to be struck somewhere between being a magician doing tricks and a mind control illusionist. That’s on stage.

TV calls for a different approach. “The TV shows have more and more moved into a more reality format and moved away from the tricks,” he says. “That sort of mind-reading stuff works particularly well on stage, with the fact that every moment is live and people have been randomly pulled out of the audience.”

He traces his interest in magic and psychological techniques back to childhood, but it wasn’t until he was studying law and German at Bristol University that he did something about it. He saw a hypnotist act in his first year.

“I thought that it was amazing. He did a few magic tricks too, so I got a book on conjuring and learnt how to do it.”

Law was abandoned as a career in favour of magic and he was able “to scrape a living as a magician”. Psychology continued to interest him and he was able to incorporate that into the world of magic. Hey presto, a mind conjuror was born.

THERE was a point where he considered becoming a hypnotherapist. If you’ve seen Danny Boyle’s new film Trance, you’ll know the complicated mind games that such professionals can play with their patients.

“But a lot of hypnotherapy was nonsense and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be hearing people’s problems every day, so moved into a more entertainment area fairly early on – and never looked back.”

Infamous is his sixth stage show since 2003.

He’s toured every year and been watched by an estimated audience of two million people. Two of his shows, Something Wicked This Way Comes as well as Svengali, earned him Olivier awards.

Touring is still his favourite thing to do, he says, and Sunderland is “such a lovely crowd”.

A strong sense of community in a city can make a difference by generating a particular kind of energy in the audience. “It makes the whole show a lot more enjoyable, certainly for me, and normally has an effect on others too.”

TV specials such as Apocalypse and Fear & Faith have gained him both admirers and detractors.

Trying to break into the US would seem a natural progression, but he’ll only do it on his terms. “I very nearly did an American series, but they wanted to turn it into something that didn’t sit well into what I wanted it to be,” he says.

Derren Brown is a man who knows his own mind as well as other people’s.

  • Derren Brown: Infamous: Sunderland Empire, from Monday to May 4. Box Office: 0844-871-3022