Early on in his show, Ben Hart compares magic to time travel- a way of recapturing the powerful feelings of surprise and amazement that many adults feel are gradually beaten down by the passage of time. His skillful and intriguing tricks in ‘Belief?’ certainly manage to inspire such emotions.
The hour does begin with a little bit more intensity than would perhaps be expected from a magic show. In his opening sequence, Hart describes the performance of the trick of making objects disappear as a form of self-harm; he details how performing such tricks caused him to forget who and where he was, losing his identity. This may have been part of why the first word used to describe his show in the official Fringe description is “dark”. Ultimately, it made me a little bit worried about him. That intensity continues as a theme throughout, although it quickly simmers down to calmer, less concerning, levels.
Hart continuously integrates his illusions into his storytelling. He tells the audience a story—topics range from describing prejudices against a sewage worker to an explanation of Schrodinger’s cat—and then transitions seamlessly into a trick with that theme. Hart keeps the audience engaged in his stories both with his personality and with clever use of light. For one story, he sits with a bright light shining directly on him, evoking a pleasant modern campfire effect.
This storytelling aspect does result in a lower concentration of actual magical content. While his entire act as an artist is certainly appealing to an audience composed primarily of adults, it is perhaps not the best choice for children. However, Hart engaged with the one child in his audience by inviting him to take part in one of the tricks, which is a nice gesture toward guardians who may have expected a more traditional child-oriented magic performance.
Hart’s show is an interesting and absorbing way to spend an hour. His use of storytelling both to entertain and to incorporate his magic into his theme gives his act a pleasant and calming flow. ‘Belief?’ does not feel like just another magic show, but a polished performance piece. Both the cohesiveness of theme and the pervasiveness of Hart’s personal style set this show apart and make it both enjoyable and worthwhile to watch.