Life, etc, Media

A mystery you won’t easily forget

By Lesley Stones 19 April 2012

It takes a special kind of person to turn mathematics into a theatrical experience. It takes a special kind of audience to appreciate it too, judging by the small gathering of ticket holders for Powerbrain, The Mentalist Sequel. By LESLEY STONES.

Even the title of the show performed by Michael Abrahamson is a bit of a turn-off. It’s a correctly calculated description because this is the second show he has devised, but it does sound deterringly academic.

All the same it is a cerebral, intriguing affair and theatre for thinking people. There are no flying phantoms, glittering costumes or musical crescendos, just one rather nerdy looking man who warms up his mental neurons by running through a few square roots before tackling “something more audacious”.

Since we’re a small audience he asks us all to participate, otherwise there isn’t much of a show. “You are the entertainment, I’m just the facilitator,” he says. Then he starts with a numbers game, and a woman shouts out a number – 87. Within 15 seconds Abrahamson has filled in a grid of 16 squares so each vertical, horizontal and diagonal row adds up to 87. Oh, the central four figures also make 87, as well as the four clusters in each corner.

Ah yes, well anyone could remember the sequence to do that, if they practiced long enough. And that’s the secret really, except it isn’t a secret because Abrahamson keeps telling us. “I’m going to use my skills as a mentalist to get you to do what I want you to do,” he says. “Every member of the audience can do this – it’s skills you can acquire.”

As he eloquently says, “mentalism” uses the five senses to create the illusion of a sixth sense. It isn’t magic or trickery, but intelligence, memory and psychological profiling to help him predict what people will do or say. Which envelope they will chose, which card they will select.

Next he puts a written prediction into a locked box and tells us all will be revealed at the end of the show, after he has made us think of things he has decided in advance. Later he does just that, pulling out the document that recaps the feats he has performed. The colour we all chose on our audience participation cards was indeed green. The man’s name written by someone in the audience was James. Amazingly, the page someone picked at random from a phone book did end with the name and phone number Abrahamson had predicted.

We laugh, we gasp and scratch our heads. Powerbrain will entertain and fascinate anyone with a sense of curiosity and a willingness to stretch their ideas of what to expect from a night at the theatre.

Stupidly, a very minor thing that impressed me was his ability to remember the names of the people who came on stage. As a dunce who forgets a name the second I hear it, I was struck by how he remembered the names of his impromptu helpers.

Abrahamson’s biography reveals he teaches maths, which must be absolutely enthralling for his students. He also runs courses to help people improve memory. I’d sign up, but I’m sure I’d forget to go. DM

Powerbrain runs at the University of Johannesburg Arts Centre, on Kingsway Campus until 21 April.