Friday, March 18, 2011

What is Derren Brown's "Svengali Doll"?

In his latest stage show, Svengali, Derren Brown is (as usual) asking the audience not to tell others what happens in the show. Consequently, the internet is full of very vague reviews of the show. But we can glean one key detail from bliter's account of the show:

Svengali is an "automaton" that reads minds. This is reminiscent of the televised DB trick in which he pretended to be a mechanical mind-reading device. Here, though, obviously Derren will be outside of the machine. Thus, a stand-alone machine will somehow be made to reveal details about audience members.

It's kind of odd that DB would choose to use a prop as the centerpiece of his show -- but that simply implies that it is an unusually impressive prop.

For a full explanation of what we know about Derren Brown's Svengali, see my article: "Derren Brown Svengali Spoilers."

And to read all about Derren Brown's career, see my unauthorized biography of Derren Brown.

28 comments:

BexyNut said...

He deliberately told no one to speak about it after the show (To which I attended) and that is why no one but me has commented on this.

aecfa858-76ff-11e0-a5bf-000bcdcb2996 said...

All I'm saying after seeing the show last night is you're wrong and why not just watch the show, it's definately worth it!

Suegali said...

think it was a massively over rated show. most of the tricks done were variations of ones hes already performed and all of them could be done by using stooges. I wasn't impressed by the doll purely because this is the 21st Century so does he really expect us to believe that doll was actually a 300 year old doll which replies to your questions? To me it was just a radio controlled prop. Entertaining show but nothing mind blowing

William_Tapscott said...

Regarding the "you're wrong" comment -- Actually, no. Since posting this entry I have received a complete run-down of the show, and it appears that I was right (although lacking in details obviously).

William_Tapscott said...

Suegali - great point. These throw-backs to the old days of magic entertain Derren Brown and other illusionists, but the charm is lost on most audience members. I think Derren is better off sticking with his new-age/NLP/mentalism approach.

laura bondage said...

Wow! You're all idiots! For a start if you look into the history you'll find out derren brown didn't make up Svengali, just because you're not educated enough to know. The show was actually impressive, you just shouldn't speak if your going to make childish insults.

William_Tapscott said...

laura,

We might not be as idiotic as you think -- in an earlier post, we discussed the history of "svengali" (i.e., the Trilby novel). Or are you referring to the "history" provided by Derren in his stage performance? And please remember that we all like Derren Brown, or we wouldn't be spending our time on this blog -- but that doesn't mean we have to pretend that every new trick he produces is better than the last.

Einstein said...

After being impressed with Derren's skills for many years, I'm afraid that the latest Svengali show in the Shaftesbury Theatre London left me very disappointed. I agree with Suegali regarding the doll. Derren tries to make us believe it is a wind up automaton, when it is far more likely a battery or mains operated device with a remote control, operated by a stage hand in the wings. Ask a question then ring the bell to cue the stage hand to select the right numbers and letters from his "ONE FOR ALL" remote control lol - hardly impressive compared to Derren's earlier material. Is he running out of ideas? Would have been more impressive if the questions were written on pieces of paper and the doll answered them without the questions being physically spoken. Once the questions were answered, then the questions on the pieces of paper could be revealed to see if the questions and answers tallied up. Rest of the show was okay.

LauraJHW said...

'Einstein' as you call yourself. I'm not being funny but even if the doll is controlled by a remote, that doesn't explain how the answers are given.
I also don't understand why people are spoiling the show. Derren specifically asked of his audience to keep his show secret from the internet and those who have not yet seen the show. It disappoints me to see so called fans ruining his show.
I went to see it last night and i am still baffled by the way he performs his shows to perfection.
Oh and @Suegali that may be your opinion. But how do you explain how everything he did worked out? Why can't you just appreciate his work and the job he does, which he does amazingly. Why feel the need to be so negative. Because what he does obviously is tricks of the mind and illusions. I'd like to see you people do what he does. Whatever way he does what he does, the man is a genius. Without doubt.

William_Tapscott said...

Laura, Here is my challenge to you: Produce one person for whom Derren's show was "ruined" because of on-line spoilers. The spoilers are there for people who want them, not for mythical people who cannot enjoy otherwise entertaining shows after viewing a particular webpage.

John said...

To those saying it could be remote controlled doll,check out Maskelyne and Devant's "Psycho". No electronics and very much similair to Derren's effect.

Debby B said...

@Laura Bondage
Thanks for calling us all idiots!!
I , as one 'idiot' have tried to look into the history of it, as I find the back story fascinating, to no avail.
Perhaps, as you've found more than I, you would kindly provide a link or two?
Much obliged.

I enjoyed the show very much. Perhaps not so much on a par with Enigma, but thoroughly entertaining all the same.

Debby B said...

@Laura Bondage
Thanks for calling us all idiots!!
I , as one 'idiot' have tried to look into the history of it, as I find the back story fascinating, to no avail.
Perhaps, as you've found more than I, you would kindly provide a link or two?
Much obliged.

I enjoyed the show very much. Perhaps not so much on a par with Enigma, but thoroughly entertaining all the same.

Debbie said...

I saw this show last night. I have to say am left a little confused! Some of the tricks were obvious. Don't want to say too much to give too much away but how on earth does the doll know what name to spell out from a random audience member...?

MrMr said...

Hello all of you.
I just found this page today, and I am glad. Well.. Four days ago I travelled from Denmark to London just to watch the show Svengali. Today, I just got home from London...
So, when I said "glad"... I meant that I am glad I didn´t find this page 4 days ago... If I did, my experience monday evening at the Novello Theatre in London would have been less enjoyable.
I see people write, that they where disapointed after they experienced DB´s show Svengali? But I don´t see, what that has to do with the show. It can only be a result of fault expectations!
I guess I have seen all of DB´s performance (as publiced. The shows and all from Chanel 4) and every time he states that it ".. fuses magic, suggestions, psykology, misdirection and showmanship.... and NO points are actors or stooges used..."
It seems to me, that most of you cant tell what is what of those things? "The doll is remote controlled... so easy to figure out..." Well.. yes... I agree. But the doll is only a part of the tools and the scenery. And, in my opinion very clever and powerfull. That was, in other words, the part called "showmanship". Not to be "figured out". Did you really believe, that DB wanted you to believe that? (My God... then you only count for the part called "misdirection" (as you clearly have been misdirected), and missed both magic, suggestions, psykology and showmanship. No wonder, you where disapointed!)
"He reuses tricks"... emm... when didn´t he do that? And.. did you figure out how he did it the first time?
I went to a lot of concerts... Never did I go to a concert with the same band a second time, where I didn´t hear them reuse some "tricks". Actually the best bands reuse their songs, and they do it cleverly. They ad a new sound or add a horn section or what ever. In these cases I never went home disapointed. "Bah. they have played that song before..." Well, yes.. but never with a horn section. And that was an experience!
Besides all that it is really embarrassing to see so-called "fans of Derren Brown" spoil his show, when he very clearly have asked anyone not to. It looks like you are spoiling it as a revence because you didn´t understand the depth of the show? Or because you so easily could figure out, that the doll isn´t really alive?
You should be ashamed...

William_Tapscott said...

MrMr -- If you had read this page before viewing Svengali, how would that have ruined the show for you? It sounds like you believe these comments are all nonsense anyway, so how would they have affected you?

MrMr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MrMr said...

@William_Tapscott:
I did not say, that it would have ruined the show for me to read this page before the show. I said, that I am glad I didn´t. And I think that should be arguments enough. As DB says himself, it damage a bit of the excitement and magic, if you are expecting this or that. For example could I have focused needless on the mechanics in the doll, instead of experienceing the actually role of the doll and the story DB have made about the doll to make it mysterious and exciting.
Spoiling the show have the same effect, as if friends tell you the score in the football-match you didn´t see yet, but was supposed to see in the evening, when they rebroadcast the match. The excitement of not knowing who will win the match is a part of the overall motivation and excitement.
I guess anyone would agree, that it is unlikely that you would say: "Well... I know that they win 2-0... but lets see if they do it again, when they rebroadcast it?"

Thats why DB ask you not to spoil the show, and thats why I am glad, I didn´t see this page before the show.
I don´t think the comments here are nonsense. I am sorry, if I gave that impression. But I think that some comments reveals, that someone could benefit from focusing different.

not_a_tweeter_just_a_twit said...

I for one, will never get bored of that feeling of complete and utter amazement when he apparently 'reads the minds' of audience members. It's these smaller yet incredible feats that will keep me going to his shows, rather than the larger-scale demonstrations such as the Svengali doll- they are just added bonuses for me!

I don't care how it's done and I don't waste my time trying to figure it out- I got what I paid for, which was a couple of hours of laughter, entertainment and utter amazement.

not_a_tweeter_just_a_twit said...

I for one, will never get bored of that feeling of complete and utter amazement when he apparently 'reads the minds' of audience members. It's these smaller yet incredible feats that will keep me going to his shows, rather than the larger-scale demonstrations such as the Svengali doll- they are just added bonuses for me!

I don't care how it's done and I don't waste my time trying to figure it out- I got what I paid for, which was a couple of hours of laughter, entertainment and utter amazement.

Xavier Corporate Mentalist said...

I am a mentalist, and I too thought it was stooged.... Then I realized derren browns skill. He uses techniques that don't require stooges, let's just say I reeditted my show because I realized what was possible.


Thanks d for the inspiration.

Xavier Corporate Mentalist said...

I am a mentalist, and I too thought it was stooged.... Then I realized derren browns skill. He uses techniques that don't require stooges, let's just say I reeditted my show because I realized what was possible.


Thanks d for the inspiration.

cezzysblu said...

ok so the doll is remote controlled so what? but wpuld anyone care to explain how the "hypnotised" guy drew the same letters out on the blackboard that the doll spells out with his back to the doll? thanks.

LouLouz said...

Ahem, ok so I'm no genius or anything. I only watched the show on tv so... This is what I got...

The doll may well be as DB says it is 300 years old, wind up, bell responsive etc...

The only letters it is programmed to point out are DS this is due to the size Position and speed of the settings of the cogs inside the machine and the position of the letters on the board, the letters are set. DB uses his normal trick of "reading minds" (reading body language) to pick the person he wants who knows someone with the initials DS. This remains in that persons mind all through the trick and that's what they write while hypnotized so the doll is right. Obviously the hand pin trick... We have seen this before, the guy is gently hypnotized. It's possible what he is saying about the doll is true but also just as much possibility it could be a remote controlled robot.

However what do I know? I'm just an aerospace engineer, I deal with this all the time

Huge DB fan :)

steve777 said...

I enjoyed the show no end but wish to look into the actual dolls history and maker. Was a fiction for atmosphere? Or is there a history to discover? Can't see any answers on the net so assume part of the act, and i know of the book. Hugo Von La Vasht anyone?

Tom Hanson said...

@loulouz not saying that is wrong but when is aw him in London he had different initiials on the hankerchief, and he made it spell a name as a trick which didnt appear on the show.

amitheonlypersonwho said...

You may like this article...! http://blog.amitheonlypersonwho.com/2012/09/amitheonlypersonwho-believes-he-has.html

cezzysblu said...

no-one yet can tell me how the hypnotised guy wrote out the same letters that the doll spells out!all i hear is " oh derren picks someone with the right body language etc" this is a show in front of so many hundred people night after night everything is planned to work..so again how does he ensure that the hypnotised guy will spell out the letters on the hankerchief?this should be so easy for you experts. thanks