With his mind-blowing and exhilarating performances Ben Hart has almost single-handedly made Magic cool again. He has thought a lot about his art, and how to structure the perfect set, and let’s face it, as one of the youngest ever members of The Inner Magic Circle (with gold star) not to mention years of critical acclaim from both his peers and his audiences, he knows what he’s talking about. “Magic is like chocolate cake. If it’s a really rich dark chocolate cake then that’s lovely and you have a few bites of it but you wouldn’t eat the whole cake. Magic is like cookery: not too much salt, not too much sugar. It’s all about getting the right balance.” As well as Television series and tours he has a decade of successful Edinburgh Fringes behind him and an unforgettable appearance as a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent in 2019.
With his new show, Wonder, he’s aiming for pure entertainment. “I have in the past done shows that have a narrative through-line, while this one is just a celebration of nicely done magic and my love letter to the idea of wonder and what that means to me. So there are storytelling pieces, others that are almost clinically stripped back to the essence of their mystery, and there are pieces that are humorous because they also have a wonderment to them. I really like playing with the ebb and flow of emotion within a show.”
While stand-up comedians are almost expected to come up with a new show of brand new material pretty much every year, magicians are given a little more latitude given that it can take someone many years to hone a trick before it’s ready to be put in front of a crowd. “This show contains the tricks I’ve been working on the longest. People still see me as fresh-faced and young, but I’ve been doing some of these tricks for a long, long time. And the reason is that they evolve with you and say something different every night. I can do a trick one night and it will get laughter and the next night the same trick or piece can feel as though it’s wicked and I’m Lucifer: nothing has changed other than the atmosphere. A trick and a show is a conversation with the audience.”
Ben is especially aware that magic should actually say something and not just be a long list of impressive illusions or subtle sleight-of-hand. “All great artists reference the richness of their inner world. It’s normal in lyrics for a musician to quote a poet or someone and to find interconnections across the arts. But traditionally in magic it has been the case that a magician tells empty stories: here’s a card trick about nothing. And that’s a waste of the power of the magic trick. I see no reason why a performer can’t be doing work that is saying something about politics or the environment for example.”
It’s fair to say, then, that Ben Hart is no ordinary magician. But then again, he has been at this game for a long while and has probably forgotten more about magic than most average magicians will ever learn. “I’ve been doing magic since I was very young, about five years old, and I actually can’t remember not doing it. The idea of it is intoxicating: it always has been for me. We as humans are so desperate to experience wonder and magic that we will find it even in something as stupid as a card trick. That to me has always been a very powerful idea. When I was eight I first went to a magic shop and I thought ‘wow, you can buy magic’. Turns out you can’t, but you can buy the dream of magic. It sold me the idea that a mortal child could have powers.”
Ahead of preparing for his new show, Ben has been busy working on other projects. For a couple of years now he’s been involved in When Magic Goes Wrong for Mischief Theatre, a show which was co-created with two of his heroes in magic, Penn & Teller. “I’ve been advising and designing on other people’s projects which is quite different for me. They can be fun if the brief is stimulating; I’m lucky enough in my career to be at the point where I can choose what I think I’m going to be good at.” He was also a consultant on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s historical novel The Mirror And The Light which finally reached the stage in September 2021. “That was also a good one: I’m always happy to help people out with a beheading.”
While Ben Hart is someone who evokes wonderment in others, what does he experience in life that instils such feelings in himself? “I find enjoyment and wonder in everything: good food, a nice evening out, exploring the world by walking around. I just like everything, and that’s why I like magic. This is a great profession for me because it’s the intersection between design and construction and psychology and performance and storytelling and comedy and history. In my life, one day I can be talking about the complicated statistical problems of a deck of playing cards and how they’re affected by shuffles; and the next day I can be figuring out how it’s going to look when we behead somebody. These are very diverse things.”
As an ode to Ben Hart’s love of structure, we end where we started, with another of his analogies which sums up the work he does. “My friends laugh at me because I always talk in metaphor. But it’s true. I think that a memorable magic show is like a dinner party: good intro, nice icebreakers, and at the end there’s a wicked game. I love touring and visiting all the diverse venues around the country that are the heart and soul of the entertainment industry. The audience comes into the theatre and I am the conductor of the space and they’re all my musical players. We’re going to make something special together. I can’t wait!”