Maties FM presenter JM Henning is sitting in the studio at the Neelsie (Langenhoven Student Centre), head bowed, immobile. Bryan Miles has hypnotised him in a matter of perhaps a minute.
Fellow presenter Cato Louw, sitting in front of the microphone, is fascinated, wordless, and the only thing preventing the dreaded “dead air” – every radio presenters nightmare – from going out, is Bryan’s calm voice as he talks to JM.
“Now I want you to try and open your eyes, but as hard as you try, you will not be able to. It is as if your eyelids are glued shut. The harder you try to open your eyes, the tighter shut they will be,” intones Bryan.
The muscles at the back of JM’s neck and head actually bulge with the effort, as he struggles to open his yes, but they remain firmly glued shut. “Now, when I snap my fingers, you will be able to open your eyes,” says Bryan, and upon the snap of his fingers, JM’s eyes fly wide open.
The look of amazement on his face is beyond comical. Cato Louw is uncharacteristically searching for words, as she describes to her listeners what she has seen, and just how flabbergasting it is, but the observers are unanimous: what we have seen is all but beyond belief.
The occasion is a radio interview about Bryan Miles, whose upcoming SABC 3 13-part series starts Sunday April 10. In One Day with Bryan Miles the camera follows Bryan around as he engages with ordinary people, plying his trade as master illusionist and hypnotist.
Bryan, who hails from Somerset West, has worked extensively overseas, including at Disneyland’s Magic Castle in Hollywood, practicing his remarkable sleight of hand in front of audiences of up to 1 500 people.
“I could have been an atrocious performer,” he quips, “and they’d have loved me, because of my accent.”
While I know that his magic is sleight of hand, and I watch very carefully, I cannot fathom how he does the next trick. “Do you believe in free choice?” he asks. I nod. He removes a small silver envelope from his wallet, and places it on the counter top. He then asks me to help him shuffles a deck of cards, which I do. He offers me a fan of cards, face down, from which I pick a card. He asks me: “Are you sure that is the card you want?” “Yes,” I reply. “And you chose that card yourself, without any indication or influence from me?” I look up at JM and Cato. They nod, I nod.
I turn over the card which I chose – a seven of hearts. He points to the silver envelope, which has thus far lain on the counter top in full view. I open it and remove the card. It is a seven of hearts.
I’ve worked with Bryan before, so I have an inkling of just how masterful he is. Bryan taught one of the cast members of Further Than The Furthest Thing which I directed at the Playhouse Theatre last year in October, a series of magic tricks called for in the script, and such is his ability, that it required sitting in on a rehearsal, followed by a short period of detailed instruction, and the magic tricks amazed the audience every night.
Even though I knew exactly what was happening, I had great difficulty “seeing” what happened each night.
“Is there any truth in the notion, popularised by the comic book character, Mandrake the Magician, that with a mere gesture, an entire audience can be hypnotised?” I ask.
“I can only hypnotise you if you are willing,” he explains, “and even then, I cannot make you do anything that you do not want to do. But in theory, if an entire audience is willing, then yes, it is possible.”
Later, sitting in reception, he persuades JM that his hand is glued firmly to the arm of the chair in which he sits, and try as he might, JM is incapable of lifting his hand, until Bryan clicks his fingers; another flabbergasting example of his skill.
Turning to the upcoming show, Bryan says: “After returning from Hollywood, where I was performing, I felt it was time to show South African audiences the true potential of the human mind on a scale that has never been done before in South Africa.”
Filmed in and around Cape Town, and various South African landmarks, each 30-minute epi-sode explores fascinating questions such as: Do we have a sixth sense? Is hypnosis real? Do you have a good memory? Are there invisible connections that bind us all together? Who is in control of our fears? What is your biggest secret?
The show premiers on SABC 3 on Sunday April 10, at 5.30pm, for 13 episodes, concluding on Sunday June 2.
There is a repeat broadcast aired on Wednesdays at 10.30pm, starting on April 13 and concluding July 6.