Monday, 10 January 2011


This Saturday I didn’t feel like doing much. I don’t know whether I should put it down to post-Christmas Blues (and bankruptcy) or just sheer laziness, but I didn’t fancy anything more exciting than a spot of breakfast in Crouch End. Resigned to re-runs of Dad’s Army, I perused the telly guide. With delight, I remembered that Channel 4 was dedicating the evening to the mysterious antics of Derren Brown, including a screening of his live show “Enigma”. Result! You see, I saw most of “Enigma” in the West End a couple of years ago. But there was a certain part that I wanted to experience again. But this time from the audience, not from the stage.
The date was July 13th 2009. Derren was at his peak as he entered into the second half of his show. Having sat through two of his shows before I was unperturbed when he asked his audience to listen to a sound that scientists had worked on for years which, he explained, was said to entice the listener into a trance-like state.
“Some of you will feel the urge to stand up. You may experience this by simply feeling that you are floating up out of your chair. Others of you will just have a strong desire to stand up. Don’t fight it, just go along with it and stay standing until I tell you otherwise.”
The “sound” started to play. Its rhythmic rumblings seemed to have no effect on me whatsoever. It was reminiscent of a train engine turning over in a station or a loud, constant bass thundering from a pulsating club. I continued to sit with my eyes closed and felt oddly comforted by the overwhelming noise that vibrated around the theatre. Then it started to happen.
I started to lean forwards in my chair. I was halfway to falling off it when I realised what was happening. Mildly alarmed but exceedingly curious, I eventually had no choice other than to try to wake my self, lunge into the person in front of me or stand up. I went for the latter.
The sound stopped. A hushed but incredulous murmur rose from the audience around me. Derren instructed those of us standing to remain where we were. I wondered if I was actually in a trance. I was convinced that I could snap out of it if I wanted to and sit down. But I didn’t.
Eventually Derren told everyone who was still standing to take a deep breath, lift their heads and open their eyes. I did and, feeling refreshed, looked around. I had assumed half the audience would be standing alongside me, and was alarmed to see a sea of inquisitive faces pointed in my direction. I quickly sat down and turned to Him Indoors. He looked back at me, an odd expression on his face. I settled back into my chair and, feeling slightly ridiculous, tried to turn my attention back to what was happening on the stage.
I had almost forgotten about my altered state when, about half an hour later, Derren asked all the women who had been hypnotised before to stand up. I felt several pairs of eyes bore into me and gingerly rose to my feet. Within a second the Weird One pointed me out. “You? What’s your name? Are you here with somebody else?” My answers clearly pleased, and he asked me to join him on stage. Applause drowned out my mumbled expletives.
Derren explained that he was going to sit me in a “Spirit Box” as used by mediums in the 18th Century to communicate with the dead. He explained mediums would put themselves into a trance and sit in the curtained off area (think a four poster bed without the bed part), where the deceased would communicate with the living. Two other volunteers were called up onto the stage to make sure there was no cheating.
Inside the spirit box was a wooden table and chair. On the table was a bell. Derren asked me to sit on the chair and looked at me. I started to feel very silly again. He held up his hand and walked towards me maintaining eye contact.
“And… sleep”.
For a second I looked straight back at him. I probably looked a little sceptical, and, well, I was. I was quietly confident that nothing was going to happen and Mr Brown would be left looking even dafter than I felt. But I was wrong.
My eyes closed heavily and my head lolled. I felt my spine turn to jelly and slumped forwards. I heard the audience laugh and again wondered if I was really in a trance. I was aware of everything that was going on around me. I felt Derren put a roughly woven bag over my head and heard him tell the audience he was going to close the curtains and summon the “spirits”. I felt a draft as he pulled the heavy velvet fabric and waited.
“Spirits, if you are with us please let us know of your presence.”
Silence. I sat in my chair. Then, without explanation, I heard the bell on the table next to me ring. Seconds later I heard the curtain being pulled open and the blindfold was lifted off my head. Derren roused me and I blinked my eyes open. He looked at me a little accusingly.
“Did you ring that bell?”
I tried not to laugh. “No!”
“Are you sure it wasn’t you?”
“Yes!” I clearly looked as bewildered as I felt - the audience were laughing at me again.
Eventually he seemed satisfied that I was telling the truth. He asked me to put my hand over a large glass he placed on the table, along with a yellow ball and the bell. He ensured that my hand was tightly placed over the top of the glass before giving me his funny look and sending me to sleep. Again I crumpled, and again the audience laughed. Even in my current state I almost laughed with them.
Again, Derren closed the curtain and summoned the spirits. Again, the bell rang on the table next to me. Derren opened the curtains once more and woke me from my stupor. He told me to look at the glass. The yellow ball was inside it. My hand was still sealing the top. You can guess what he said next.
“Did you put that ball in that glass?”
“You must have done!”
“I didn’t!”
I really didn’t have a clue what was going on. Was Derren putting one of the other volunteers in the spirit box with me when I was under? It was either that or an actual ghost. And the whole point of the exercise was to prove that there was no such thing.
I was hypnotised again, this time with a chalk board and chalk on my lap. I heard the chalk scratching across the board before the unknown hand threw it across the stage.
“Did you throw that chalk at me?”
I did laugh this time, although a little nervously. The chalkboard on my lap had the name “Alison” written on it. And not in my handwriting. Derren decided to up the stakes.
“Do you mind if I tie you up?”
At this point in our relationship it seemed rude to say no.
His two volunteers were instructed to tie my hands together and I was bound to the chair.
Next two chalkboards with chalk sandwiched between them were placed on my lap. Again someone, or something, wrote on them. Then it was a tambourine. That got thrown at Derren too.
For his last summoning of the spirits, one of the other volunteers was ordered into the box with me. Blindfolded, tied up, and apparently not quite with it, I listened as the tambourine was shook and the newspaper left in our care was violently torn up. The tambourine was dumped on my head and my companion started to scream. The whole experience had gone from bizarre to downright scary.
Derren opened up the spirit box. My new crown caused much amusement. “Did you tear up that newspaper?”
This time the question was directed to my comrade. The look of clear bafflement on his face reassured me that I wasn’t going barking mad after all. Well, at least not alone anyway.
We were thanked for our help and sent back to our seats. The finale of the show came and went but I struggled to focus. I was flabbergasted.
“So what happened when he put me to sleep?”
Him Indoors didn’t really clear up any of the mystery on the bus ride home.
“Was there someone else in the box with me? Did he switch the light off so you couldn’t see either?”
It became clear that I really was alone in that spirit box. And I knew there were no spirits involved - other than the stiff JD and coke I poured myself when I got home. There was only one solution. Derren Brown made me ring his bell. And I could have sworn on my life that I didn’t.
So, on Saturday night I set up camp in the living room with a glass of wine and some Jellied Fruits and watched Derren perform his mind-blowing madness on some other innocent soul. I nodded in sympathy as she protested her innocence and pointed at the telly in wonder as I saw for the first time the spirit box in action. It was true. Derren had controlled my mind and made me do things I could have sworn I didn’t do. It was a revelation, and an unnerving one at that. I went to bed in the early hours of Sunday morning, clear on two matters. One, that Derren Brown is a scarily clever man. And, two, if I ever meet him again, I will avoid eye contact at all costs. I mean, what might he get me to do next time?

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