From table magic beginnings in his hometown of Port Elizabeth to international stages, award-winning mentalist Brendon Peel is currently touring his latest solo show, Hocus Pocus, around South Africa in 2018. [Click here to see upcoming show dates]
“Essentially mentalism is magic of the mind, whereby I am using a mixture of actual psychological principles, suggestion, memorisation techniques, with some traditional old-school magic trickery,” explains Peel. “All blended together, these allow me to create the illusion of really getting inside your mind.”
It doesn’t always go as planned though…In 2014, Peel was booked to perform his mentalism and mind reading routine by an India-based tour group comprising members from all over the world. Ten minutes before show time, the event organiser informed Peel most of the people in the room couldn’t speak or understand English very well.
“For those of you who don’t know, mentalism involves a lot of talking and engagement and communication with people, so going on to do a mentalism show was going to be quite challenging,” recalls Peel.
“It was near impossible to do what I planned. I could see I was losing the crowd, so halfway through my act, I just pulled out a deck of cards and started doing random card tricks for the last half hour which they actually seemed to enjoy as there was not much verbal communication.
“I did kind of save myself by thinking on my feet but it was definitely the roughest gig of my life. By the end of the night everyone in the crowd was so drunk they coerced me to dance… and I don’t dance, so it was an overall nightmare.”
As a prolific performer – over the past eight years he has written, produced and appeared in 11 different shows – it’s important for Peel to keep things fresh and exciting, with each performance having its own unique experience and effects.
“Generally speaking, I tend to find inspiration for different tricks, illusions, or effects in very odd places,” he says. “This means I tend to have hundreds of different ideas for illusions, some of which are more traditional than others.”
The repetition of performing “crowd favourites” is a good thing, says Peel, which he does mainly during his walk-around routine. “However, when performing shows at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown each year, for example, I do like to come back with new and different ideas that keep the audience on their toes and not knowing what to expect,” he says. “One of the first things I ever learnt when starting magic, was ‘never do the same trick or illusion for the same audience twice as it takes away the element of surprise’. This is a mantra I tend to perform by.”
Peel thinks about his next illusion every day but says he never forces it. He describes his process: “When inspiration hits, I will quickly write it down on one of the multiple notepads that I have in my room. Strangely, whenever it rains, inspiration tends to strike. Once I have written down a load of ideas I will then string together different effects or illusion ideas I have written down and see what could work best together, and to see what is even possible to do.
“Once I am happy in the formulation of a show I then get to practising each part and ‘scripting’ what I plan to say in each segment. I say ‘scripting’ as I do also adlib quite a lot in my shows as this creates an organic and natural feel to the show. This entire process of birth to the creation of a show can take anywhere from one week to one year.”
“… I tend to have hundreds of different ideas for illusions, some of which are more traditional than others.”
Beginning acting a good four or five years before he was even interested in the notion of magic, Peel has been on stage for about 18 years now. “Without a shadow of a doubt, acting has definitely helped me to become a good performer in magic,” he says. “It helped me build that confidence needed to go on stage, it helped me in understanding theatre and stage layout, in writing and directing a show, and of course it helped in pronunciation, diction, and projection of the voice.
“All these factors have helped me so much over the years in being able to portray a trick on stage for many people, and allow everyone in the room to connect with what is going on even if they are not physically on stage at the time.” Confidence is one of the most important qualities a performer needs, says Peel: “No matter what you do, if you do it with confidence it will look good.”As for additional skills, Peel says he has always been excellent with numbers so playing to his strengths like this is something he thoroughly enjoys. “Another example is that when I was young, I memorised every country in the world, every national flag, capital, and where they are in the world. Having this knowledge in my mind has pushed me to create new memorisation feats that have never been seen before.
“This being said, I only perform and create these types of effects that I enjoy; if it ever feels like a chore to perform or practise a certain effect, then I throw it out the show.”
Something else in Peel’s background is his business degree, and rather than asking how he went from student to mentalist, it should be the other way around.
“I was doing mentalism way before I got any degree. My very first public stage show was in 2011, I was 18 years old and still in matric; in fact, I was the youngest solo magician to ever perform at the National Arts Festival,” he smiles.
Given his line of work, it comes as no surprise that Peel has amassed a “large array” of playing cards. “In fact, I believe I have owned around one thousand different decks of cards. I actually have my very own personally branded deck of cards that I usually sell after shows or on request,” he shares.
“I also have a deck of circular cards I have never seen before, and I have a gold-infused deck where every card is a shimmering gold (this deck was given to me by the cruise director of the MSC Sinfonia, Mr Stephen Cloete, who is himself a magician). I have a collection of a deck of cards from every interesting and unique place I have ever been to. These are all unopened and untouched but form my collection of playing cards from around the world!”
“Expect to see some classic mentalism brought into the 21st century,” he hints. “You can also expect a bit of danger…”