Mind-reading, unbelievable displays of memory, and maths skills that border on magic. Yup, the mentalist Michael Abrahamson is back in the house. By LESLEY STONES.
Last time mentalist Michael Abrahamson was demonstrating his prowess, it felt fitting to be staged in an auditorium at the University of Johannesburg.
With his geeky looks and lack of razzamatazz it was like watching a particularly gifted lecturer rather than a showman.
Now this amazing mathematician and baffler of brains has pumped up the pizzazz to make his new show, Visage - Revealing the Secrets of the Mind, a little showier. He hasn’t resorted to gold shirts and sequinned assistants, thank goodness, but he has lights and music, and a slicker feel, thanks to director Richard Nosworthy.
There’s more humour, too, with an introductory voice-over telling us Abrahamson even had a stylist work on him. “So if you think he still lacks style, think what he must have looked like before she got hold of him,” the voice quips.
Yet he’s still boyish and enthusiastic as he limbers up with some mental arithmetic by jotting down numbers in columns running down, across and diagonally that all add up to a number yelled out from the audience. Once he’s established his quick-thinking credentials, he memorises the order of a newly shuffled pack of cards in 45 seconds.
While his memory skills are impressive, far more intriguing is the mind reading. A few people are asked to write down a number, an animal, a colour and a location. Two other people randomly choose a couple of the papers are asked to visualise those words. Abrahamson writes down what he is picking from the vibes they’re sending him. He’s exactly right. He knew the woman was thinking of 26 and Australia, and the boy was thinking of a black horse.
“If it was magic I’d understand,” a man in front of me whispers. And that’s exactly it. Abrahamson isn’t using magic. There are no smoke and mirrors, rabbits stuffed into hats or people primed to give a certain answer. He uses his five senses to create a sixth sense, combining maths, memory, and watching for eye movements and body language to somehow influence people into specific courses of action.
It’s a fascinating show for a thinking audience, and leaves you wondering if you’re neglecting the powers hidden within you, too.
He’s great at interacting with the audience and exchanging witty banter with volunteers seeking their five minutes of fame. People are eager to be called on stage, as if they believe they’ll be the one to prove it’s hocus-pocus or be impervious to his mind reading.
At one stage, four people each write a few of things about themselves, like their star sign and their favourite actor. Abrahamson tells us to watch for the revealing movements they make when he reads an answer they wrote. Three people won’t care, but the writer will twitch or pay more attention. Except now they won’t, because they’ll by trying to hide those movements to thwart him. So look for the one who’s trying to look least interested. He reads out a few answers, and correctly guesses who wrote what.
His more elaborate pieces are absolutely baffling. The finale is to have a box unlocked and pull out a pre-prepared paper recapping some tricks we’ve seen. Yes, that was the word spelled out when people picked letters at random. Yes, that was the name in the phone book reached by convoluted but random choices. Yes, that was the final chair remaining in a colour elimination game.
Earlier in the show, one man was asked to write down the name of someone special and keep it secret in his pocket. As Abrahamson walks off stage at the end, long after we fear he’s forgotten that particular trick, he says: “Oh, the name is Chloe.” The man stands up and displays the name he’d written. It’s Chloe. I get goosebumps, and wonder again how he does it. DM
* Visage – Revealing the Secrets of the Mind, runs at UJ Arts Centre, Kingsway Campus, Auckland Park until February 17.