Makhanda - It was evident from the onset that the magical duo on stage was learning new tricks in front of their National Arts Festival crowd of approximately 100 in the Masonic Hall in Makhanda.
In their show, dubbed Carnival Sideshow and Other Magical Things, award-winning magician and mentalist Brendon Peel and daredevil illusionist Li Lau were in their fourth day of performance when things went horribly wrong for them on stage.
They started their show by handing out three Rubik's Cubes for the audience to scramble. Thereafter it was a card trick, hammering a nail into the nose, eating glass and other mind-boggling illusions.
It was the final act that had the audience sitting on the edges of their seats, with one mother getting up with her daughter to leave. As they left, Peel handed the little daughter a pack of cards saying he hates to see people leave their show unhappy. Thereafter it was back to setting up the finale which entailed strapping Li Lau to a seat with a crossbow in front of him.
"We are the only magicians in the world who perform this act. It is very dangerous. We are going to chain Li Lau to this chair," said Peel as they unveiled a chair with chains, handcuffs, thumbcuffs and padlocks.
"In front of Li Lau is this crossbow which will be loaded with this metal arrow," he continued as he allowed the audience to feel the arrow.
Li Lau got to the stage and added that he would be a Houdini.
"I am going to use a pin to unlock myself from all these chains and padlocks before that crossbow fires." The cross was tied to a bottle filled with a liquid and a moneybag filled with rice. As soon as the liquid drips out and empties the crossbow would fire. This gave Li Lau roughly two minutes to escape.
Li Lau sat down and was strapped and locked down by their assistant, Philip Blunt, who then went off to release the liquid's seal and it started to drip slowly.
On the other side a blindfolded Peel unscrambled the three Rubik's Cubes and added each completed one as additional weight to delay the crossbow from firing.
Two minutes into unscrambling the Rubik's Cube, panic set in and Peel quickly placed the last unfinished Rubik's Cube onto the crossbow's scale to delay it whilst Li Lau untied the last chain on his neck. As he was about to jump off the chair, the crossbow fired and the 120km/h arrow lodged itself into his head. He dropped to the floor in front of the audience and lay still as Peel immediately got up and asked the audience to evacuate the premises.
Outside the Masonic Hall audience members hugged each other as some shed tears of shock and disbelief as three ambulances approached the venue within five minutes of the incident.
Li Lau was rushed to a nearby hospital with the arrow still lodged in his head.
The festival's CEO, Tony Lankester, assured us that counselling services would be availed to all present and especially the children.
"Mr Lau was taken to Settlers Hospital, where he is receiving treatment. We are informed that the crossbow did not penetrate his skull, and Mr Lau is fully conscious. As a precaution he will be X-rayed to establish whether or not there is any further fracture or injury," added Lankester who went on to say "The festival deeply regrets the incident and is in conversation with the performers to establish what went wrong with the illusion."
At around 20h30 on Sunday night a picture of smiling Li Lau in hospital was circulated and at 21h30 Li Lau, in a video, said: "I want to thank everyone who came to the show and for your support. We just had a little minor incident this afternoon, but I am all well. We just took precautionary measures. We did not put ourselves in harm or any potential risk. Thank you for your support. I am 100%. The show is going to go on!"