By BRUCE DENNILL
Andre The Hilarious Hypnotist / Studio, Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg 4
Celebrating a quarter-century of performing his stage show, Andre The Hilarious Hypnotist is still – a testament to his consistent appeal – reaching new audiences. That means the possibilities of having an individual performance in which his tried and tested formula (relying on enthusiastic volunteers to be the stars of the show) doesn’t quite pay off remain real.
The show, by its nature, is intimate and interactive, with the slightly stooped figure of its central figure serving mostly as a facilitator, rather than an obvious manipulator or magician. Andre explains the rules for participation – be over 16, don’t be inebriated, and be willing to engage, more or less – before inviting a potential crop of co-stars on stage, where he explains a couple of techniques he will use to determine whether or not each volunteer is susceptible to hypnosis.
It’s at this point that the first doubts were introduced into the performance. Many people who’d offered their services simply couldn’t be induced to do what Andre wanted them to do, which, in the absence of any distracting onstage fireworks, meant he started on the back foot in terms of displaying his expertise, having to milk initially three, then four and finally two volunteers for the same number of laughs and interactions he’d usually hope to get out of between six and 10 helpers. He just about managed in that regard, with there being plenty to laugh at as those onstage bumbled around in a trance.
But even those who were willing and able to fall under Andre’s spell did not remain there consistently, waking up when they should have been asleep and distracting both the hypnotist and the audience, while also freaking themselves out if they discovered themselves in a different place or circumstance than when they’d gone under. Elsewhere, volunteers would receive instructions from Andre during the set-up for a sequence and then simply not deliver when activated, requiring an inelegant pause and re-start. And two volunteers requested to leave the stage at different points during the second act because they felt uncomfortable with what they were being subjected to.
The fact that there was nothing particularly risqué or embarrassing expected of them – most of the audience would have done sillier things at office parties – was not the point. Andre, whose sense of humour was not universally appreciated from the start, was under obvious pressure, and while nobody would have reason to lodge an official complaint or anything at that level, he could have handled his nervous guests with considerably more grace.
It would be unfair to suggest that this single performance and the audience involved were representative of Andre’s effectiveness as a hypnotist or of the general entertainment value of his act. But this particular outing confirmed that the variables involved in the show need to be in alignment for it to work well, and there are no guarantees that this will be the case.