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Svengali, my dear Watson * 26 June 2011


So, last night we thought would be a low key, non-Sherlock related evening for Team Sherlockology. Not that going to see Derren Brown's Svengali show could ever be considered low key in itself, but a night off from Sherlockology work related pursuits certainly. As ever, how wrong we were.

We knew of course that Mark Gatiss had seen the show earlier in the month, tweeting afterward the show, "DerrenBrown's 'Svengali' wonderful. Lips stitched. Where else could you see Bernie Clifton and Donald Sinden in the same audience?" Not to mention the further connection being Derren made his acting debut in BBC4's 'Crooked House' in 2008. A drama his friend Mark wrote and produced, and remains still a rare acting role for Derren, be it only a cameo appearance.

There are obvious similarities of course between Sherlock Holmes' abilities and Derren Brown's own, even on his website, it sites the BBC's 'Sherlock' as having more than a small similarity to himself, "Not only has it been mentioned several times on the web that the BBC remake of Sherlock Holmes was based on DB himself, but there's some hints at dress sense and behavioural ticks that seem a little too coincidental for us. A poor decision not to include goatees resulted in 3 people nearly losing their job, only to be saved by rampant use of waistcoats."

With all this in mind, Team Sherlockology some months ago had duly booked our 'Svengali' tickets at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London for Saturday 25th 2011 and were looking forward to seeing the man himself, doing what he does best, live.

And so there we were, having arrived in more than enough time before the show started at 7:30. We found our seats in row J of the stalls, settled down and people watched while the auditorium filled up and people found their own seats. While watching lazily the hustle and bustle around us and enjoying the buzz of pre show excitement, a rather familiar face entered through the stalls door and made his way up the central isle to row E, flanked by another rather familiar face.

"Oh my god!!!!!" one of us exclaimed rather too loudly. We all looked in the vague direction she was wide eyed and staring, to see what had clearly prompted this rather unexpected reaction. "Oh my god, there's MARTIN FREEMAN!!!!!" she continued, probably loud enough for row A to hear, just incase we along with the rest of the theatre had missed it. This was in fact the same team member who stood frozen to the spot in slack jaw surprise when Steven Moffat strolled past her at the entrance of The Lexi Cinema last month for the screening of 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes', so we can only assume she was probably trying to make up for her inaction on that occasion.

To our enormous surprise, it was indeed Martin Freeman and his very gorgeous partner Amanda Abbington, and not just the fact that we've watched 'Sherlock' so many times we were now hallucinating cast members in everyday situations.

As we watched, (we won't say stalked as after all we were sitting down first), he was quite the gentleman and stood aside for Amanda to go ahead and choose her seat while he followed her to his own seat next to her. They sat directly in front of us and we would be lying to say that it wasn't just a little surreal. Of all the evenings we could have booked, and of all the actors who could have walked in, what were the chances? But yes, there he was wearing a rather loud but very fetching pale blue pinstripe jacket. He looked relaxed and ready to enjoy the evening, just like everyone else out with his or her partners and friends in the theatre. The fellow residents of his row appeared not to recognize either he or Amanda and as far as we could tell, he went unnoticed by everyone other than ourselves, although two people behind us were discussing when 'The Hobbit' was to be released next year so maybe they overheard our overzealous cries of excitement at the spot?


The show itself was everything you would expect from Derren Brown and Martin and Amanda along with everyone else participated willing when asked to do so, but were not picked for anything along with the majority of the one and a half thousand strong audience. They like us thankfully got away with never having to be summoned on stage. Derren even mentioned Sherlock Holmes at one point and his real life counterpart Dr. Joseph Bell, and demonstrated how Sherlock would deduce certain things from people, all with alarming accuracy. We won't go into any more detain however, as we don't want to spoil it for anyone yet to see the show and Derren in fact requested that people do not post spoilers on the internet. What we will say is, as impressive as his deductions were, we must admit, we thought a Belstaff coat wouldn't have gone amiss. Maybe we were just being picky though?

During the interval we wrestled with the idea of approaching Martin as opportunities like this are a rare gift indeed, however they were both tucking into ice creams and it really didn't seem fair to disturb them on a Saturday night out and Martin's night off from 'Sherlock'.

The show ended just after 10pm and both Martin and Amanda gave Derren a standing ovation. We rather hoped we would have perhaps a small window where we may have been able to say hello and perhaps take a photo, however we think Sherlock underestimates John immensely if Martin is anything to go by, as he literally disappeared into thin air! One minute he was in the middle of his isle in front of us, with people blocking his exit either side while making their own way out… the next, and in the blink of an eye, no longer, he had vanished. Someone suggested to us on Twitter that he must have used The Ring that Bilbo Baggins found in 'The Hobbit' and we're inclined to believe it, as one second he was there, then he wasn't. With the greatest respect to Derren Brown, it was the best magic trick we had witnessed all night. We assume he must have gone through one of the doors marked Private to meet Derren after the show, a lucky privilege for those who are also names. This was later confirmed when Derren Tweeted just after 1am, "Post-show nosh with Bilbo-to-be Martin Freeman & Amanda Abbington. Glorious couple."

It was a real treat to have seen Martin and we hoped he and Amanda enjoyed the show as much as we did and had a lovely evening together. As much as it would have been amazing to see Benedict there, attending the show too, at least we know now that Sherlock doesn't gatecrash all of John's dates!