If we believe everything we see, at least on the video screen, the stage mentalist Doug Segal can get from his hotel bed to the venue — stopping off mid-route to buy a lottery ticket — in under 90 seconds. But if his first Edinburgh audience was willing to take that old-school cinematic routine with a pinch of salt, their amazement began to grow soon enough when — having chosen six people at random to each come up with a single number between 1 and 49, those numbers were on the lottery ticket in his wallet.
However, as Segal pointed out (before anyone, in what was a genuinely “lively” audience, asked), being a mentalist doesn’t mean he can predict the actual National Lottery results. He can, however, predict people thanks to his understanding of statistics, marketing and subliminal messages — oh, and also a little cheating and lying.
Unlike many mentalists, Segal promises to let the audience know how he does what he does; he shares, for instance, some of the simple visual and behavioural ‘tics’ that giveaway a liar. He also shows how it’s possible, through little more than basic wordplay, to implant an impression in someone’s mind so they really believe they see something that isn’t there.
The truth, though, is that these are simple crumbs to pull the audience into his power; most of his routines — in particular his repeated ability to seemingly read a word in somebody’s head, and then teach an audience member how to do so too — seem to defy a rational explanation. And one is so overly complicated that you can’t help but think he’s really showing off.
He’s not the first performer on this year’s Fringe to compare himself to Derren Brown — in this case, Segal insists he has ‘better hair’, though he’s arguably far more personable, even when quite blatantly negotiating with the audience between going for a ‘standard’ ending (requiring mild applause if it goes right) and a stupendous ‘Hollywood’ closure (demanding a standing ovation) to a particular routine.
Naturally, the audience always opted for the Hollywood option; just as Segal, presumably, wanted them to.