BILLY SUTER chats to Port Elizabeth’s BRENDON PEEL, whose talent for mentalism and magic saw him bring his first solo show, Hocus Pocus, to the Rhumbelow Theatre branch in Kloof in September 2018. He now brings a new show, Smoke and Mirrors, to the Umbilo Rhumbelow Theatre at 7.30pm on April 2 and 3, and 2pm on Sunday, April 4. It will also be staged at the Rhumbelow at Northlands Bowling Club, Durban North, at 7.30pm on April 10, and at the Pietermaritzburg Rhumbelow Theatre, at the Allan Wilson shellhole, at 2pm on April 11. Tickets cost R160. Book at Computicket or phone Roland at 082 499 8636 for bookings.
Tell us what we can expect from Smoke and Mirrors – and will it be different in any way to your more recent shows in Durban?
Smoke and Mirrors is my new show, with some never-before-seen feats and illusions. The production is a blend of magic, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. This combination is what creates a unique and rare art form known as mentalism.
The show is packed with displays of powerful mentalism and mind-reading that will leave the audience wondering what is real and what is an illusion. For good measure, the show also contains some traditional magic tricks that has been enjoyed by audiences for centuries.
I understand you will also be staging a show for children at the Rhumbelow during your KwsaZulu-Natal visit. Tell me a bit more about that production.
The new kids’ show is called Alakazam! and is a fun, family, magic show filled with some crowd favourites of classic illusions and magic tricks.
Performed for over two weeks in Dubai in 2020, this show aims to get as many youngsters involved as possible. This involvement is, of course, done in the most Covid-compliant way possible. The show is guaranteed to be fun for both young and old.
When last did you perform in Durban – and how many times have you brought shows to the Rhumbelow to date?
I always love bringing my shows to Durban and, in particular, I love bringing my shows to the various Rhumbelow theatres.
The last time I brought a show to Durban was in 2020, after it was allowed for shows to commence. It was really amazing to see how Covid-aware and cautious the venue is, with fogging the venue daily as well as putting strict social distancing protocols putinto place.
I have brought five different shows to the Rhumbelow theatres over the last few years. The audiences are great and I always have an amazing time performing there.
What have you been up to in recent months?
Recently, I started doing more live shows around the country. However, what has been keeping me busy in recent times is performing virtual shows for corporate and private events.
Another big thing that has been keeping me busy is starring in the first season of the Travel Channel’s new series, Magic Caught on Camera, which has been shown worldwide.
The show has some of the top magicians from around the world performing street magic for unsuspecting people. Others featured included Justin Willmans of Netflix’s Magic For Humans, Justin Flom (who is one of the most popular magicians in the world) and viral magic sensation, J-Brizy.
Besides that, I always try to strategise as well as create new content on my upcoming shows, which I find fun and even therapeutic.
You entered Britain’s Got Talent last year as a duo, alongside escapist Li Lau. What made you enter that competition, how did you qualify for it, where did you finish in the competition and what did you most enjoy about that whole experience?
Essentially we were invited to perform our unique act on the show as the producers had heard about it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we absolutely loved being part of it.
Unfortunately, due to Covid travel restrictions, many international acts had difficulty getting back to the UK. However, our act has been seen by nearly 20 million people to date and has received amazingly positive responses from people online.
You describe yourself as predominantly a mentalist (centred on mind-reading games). How, when and why did you develop this skill? Also, how much of your show is made up of general magic – and what training have you had in this area?
I am, indeed, what is known as a mentalist, which is essentially doing magic that focuses on the mind. I taught myself everything I know in terms of magic, illusion and mentalism.
I started practising and teaching myself magic because I had always had an interest in making the impossible possible.
I like mentalism most as there is a grey area within mentalism, as to what is real and what is not. I like blurring that line and leaving the audience wondering if what they saw was truly real or an illusion.
The Hocus Pocus show comprisesabout 60% mentalism and 40% of more traditonal magic tricks. It even includes the oldest trick in the book.
Where and when marked your professional debut as a performer in magic – and what was most memorable about that experience?
My first close-up performance, at a restaurant, was in 2009, and my first stage performance was in 2011, in my show Mind Games – where I was the youngest solo magician to ever take the stage at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. So I guess you could say 2011 was the start of professional career.
It was the craziest and best experience of my life. Right after my very first show I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
What other things have you studied… and what other career paths have you followed or do you pursue?
I have a degree majoring in journalism and drama, and a post-grad in Business from Rhodes University.
I have been in the entertainment industry my entire working career.
I was a bartender for one day once and that was the only other job I’ve ever had. I am a full-time magician.
Where and when were you born and at what age did you develop an interest in magic – and what inspired that interest?
I am from Port Elizabeth. I became interested in magic at quite a young age. I used to watch David Blaine’s TV shows and Derren Brown, and that inspired me to learn magic and, in particular, mentalism.
Are any other members of your family into magic?
My late great-uncle used to perform magic. However, I never had the good fortune of meeting him. Besides him, there are no other magicians in my family.
What has been your best stage success? And your worst magic disaster (if any)?
It is hard to say what my best stage success has been as I have performed over 400 stage shows – but one of my top achievements has to be having a successful run of shows at the Edinburgh Festival.
My worst disaster was smashing my hand down on the wrong cup in a trick called ‘spiked’, which is an effect I will be performing in Hocus Pocus.
What is the golden rule of being a mentalist/magician? And are there perhaps any no-nos in your line of entertainment?
The golden rule for me is to never give away or reveal a secret to an illusion, Also, I don’t perform the same trick for the same audience more than once as this takes away the element of surprise.
What magicians/mentalists do you most admire?
There is one very simple answer to that question, and that is Derren Brown, He has, without a doubt, been the biggest influence on my career path. He is, in my opinion, the best entertainer on planet Earth.
What has been among your most memorable performances to date?
One of my most memorable performances was performing a three-hour stage show for a school. It was early on in my career and I didn’t realise that three hours is actually a lot of time to be performing magic.
I went through all my routines and kept the crowd engaged for a full three hours, with no break! It was at this point I knew I could handle practically any gig that came my way.
What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage?
It has happened a couple of times where I have mistaken a guy for a girl and vice versa. It t is quite embarrassing. I don’t mean it to happen but sometimes the lights are quite bright on stage and I can’t see the crowd so well.
What have been some comments you have heard from the public – and have you had any unusual fan requests perhaps?
Generally, people love the shows I do. I often have people message me and ask for predictions of scores for soccer matches, as well as other sports, as they wish to bet on my picks.
I have also been asked to heal terminal illnesses, contact the dead, and one gentleman asked me to become a leader of their cult. I was flattered by all of these.
I naturally declined all these requests, as what I do is illusion… only for entertainment purposes.
What are five words to best describe your strengths as a person? And five to describe your weaknesses?
Strengths: charismatic, intelligent, funny, passionate, confident.
Weaknesses:late-riser, tone-deaf, shy, impatient, cynophobic (fear of dogs).
Away from the world of magic, how do you relax and unwind? Any hobbies or things you collect perhaps?
Before I ever did magic I acted. I still love acting when I have the chance. I also love to draw and am a surprisingly good artist. I write scripts and plays for fun too. I also collect coins, cards, stamps and comic books.
I am also an avid quizzer and my quiz team and I quiz at least once or twice a week every week. Iur team is called The Inklings.
I also love playing pool and will legitimately challenge anyone who wants to play me.
What are five things about yourself, however trivial, that most people are not likely to know.
I once won a cake-decorating competition.
I nearly studied Fine Art at university .
I was very serious about soccer and cricket and really wanted to go pro.
Before I ever learnt a magic trick I used to play poker. In fact, by the age of 11 it was already one of my goals to play at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). This will still happen one day.
If it wasn’t for magic I would most likely become a politician
What is the most surprising thing someone has said of you?
I was once told that I excelled as a lead in a musical I performed in. It surprised me because I genuinely don’’t think I can sing or dance.
What are your fears and phobias – and why?
Dogs/ I just don’t like big dogs. I also have a fear of failing and missing out on the opportunity to live out my dreams.
What are two of your most treasured possessions?
My very first toy (it’d like a random teddy bear). It is the first material object I was given and I think that is quite noteworthy. Also treasured is my ‘metal stick’. I used to play around in the garden with a metal stick, I know it sounds bizarre but believe it or not I created some of my best childhood memories running around the garden with that stick. It is essentially value-less, but to me it is priceless.
What is the worst trouble you have ever been in?
That, I have to say, is classified information.
What else is on the horizon for you soon?
Right now, the main focus is to get out and start performing more live shows around the country again.
Other TV projects and social media campaigns are also in the works, including a possibility of appearing on season two of Magic Caught on Camera. It was truly an honour to be involved in that show.
Longterm dreams and ambitions?
My absolute dream is to become a headlining performer in Las Vegas, and I feel that if I keep working hard it could become a real possibility. I guess only time will tell.
Any other news or comments?
I just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone from Durban that has shown me so much support over the years. I can’t express enough how much I appreciate it.
Without the support of people coming to shows it would be impossible for artists to be able to survive and thrive. Also, thank you to the Rhumbelow for always giving artists a platform to be able to put their work on, even in a time of a pandemic.
Entertainment is something I think we all need in this current time of life… and that is all I am trying to provide.