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I TALK TO Ben Hart

After two years away, Ben Hart is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with his brand new show Belief?

In those two years Ben has keeping busy starring in Impossible both in the West End and internationally and his own BBC Three series Life Hacks Hoax, but now is the right time he feels to return to the Fringe. His views on magic has changed and he’s very clear on what he doesn’t want to see in a magic show.

So if you too have been slightly disillusioned by magic recently, Ben’s show promises to be a real treat.

You’re back at the Fringe this year after two years away, why have you returned?

The Fringe is hard to get out of your system once it’s in there. I’d got into the habit of creating new material every year. I did two years on the free Fringe and two years on the pay Fringe so I’d done four years and then I started doing this West End show called Impossible which ran for two years and is now on a little break so I thought why not go back to the Fringe and do some new work.

How has you found writing this new hour?

It’s been interesting. I’m in the final stages of locking it all down. It’s been different for me because in the past I had something to prove, but after having a couple of successful years I don’t have so much to prove.

It’s been different this year because simply by the number of shows I’d done I got bored of magic as a form. So I made a real conscious effort to do things that you wouldn’t expect in a magic show. The general tone of the show is different and feels more interesting, personal and in a way challenging for the audience in a way.

I’ve tried to reject that traditional magic trick form and usual magician spiel as that’s become a bit boring for me so I’m trying to do things differently now.

You’re just about to go into previews is that right?

Yes. I preview quite late for a magician or in fact any type of act, because magic is a funny thing. It’s totally binary. It either works as a trick or it doesn’t work as a trick. There’s no middle ground. You can’t be half fooled by a magic trick.

It has to be totally finished and I’m wary of finishing everything very early on because then you’re rejecting the natural progression that happens. So it’s been liberating to write and rehearse and I’m really hoping that the audiences will respond well to it. I’m not patronising the audience at all but a certain amount of it is educating them that magic can be done in a different way.

There’s a lot of magic around at the moment, especially on shows like Britain’s Got Talent. What do you make of its popularity?

Generally speaking I think it’s a really good thing because magic is a really deep rich field and most people don’t have much understanding of it at all so it’s really nice for us to be able to educate the audience that there’s different styles of magic. There’s the equivalent of an acoustic set, there’s a heavy rock equivalent - so that’s really useful.

I think the biggest problem is that magic on TV is not the same as magic that’s live. In many ways, magic that’s live is better because it’s happening in the room you’re in. You’re there and you’re present.

TV magic has pushed the boundaries so far that you can’t do what you can do live on telly. The amount of camera tricks you see in TV magic is sort of disgusting. Not so much on these live shows but I think audiences are wise to it aren’t they?

Why have you called this year’s show Belief?

Like most people at the Fringe you choose the title a long time in advance and you hope it informs your work as you go along. You can watch my show on many different levels. You can watch it just as a magic show. Or you can read into the choices of material and what the subtext is.

Of course, what people forget is that if you can and watch a show at the Fringe, it’s just an hour of your life but for the performer who’s made it. It could have easily been awhile year of their life. So of course the show contains within it deeply personal messages, sometimes hidden.

I had this big realisation that the biggest problem with magic is that magicians don’t believe what they’re doing is real. And if magicians don’t believe what they’re doing is real, how can you expect an audience to belief it?

And whilst I’m not sitting here saying that I can really do magic, if you touch on stuff that you do believe in, hopefully the audience will care a lot more. For example, if you’re going to make something disappear, as the famous old quote goes, “A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” so you have to almost forget about that thing ever existing. Then when you get in to that sort of process, it’s all about belief. If I don’t really believe that I’ve lost somebody’s card in the pack, how can I make it look like I lost it?

That’s the general context and whilst that does sound very deep, you can just enjoy it a magic show.

How did you first get into magic?

I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid but unfortunately I don’t have a really interesting story about it because I don’t remember. I always think that I should come up with a really good PR story, but I don’t remember not doing it. I’ve been doing it all my life.

I know that when I was eight or so I visited a magic shop and that’s where things got a bit serious. When you realise that you can invent a magic trick it’s al very addictive. Magic touches on so many facets of life that it just gets totally under your skin.

I don’t remember the specific moment that got me into it, but I do remember doing badly in school and not paying attention. magic was far more interesting?

How long have you been working on your new show for?

Because I’ve had a couple of years off from the Fringe, I had some things that I’d been working on or wanted to do for a while. I’ve been working on it full-time for the last two months and I’ve been writing on and off for the best part of a year.

What actually happens is that you end up discarding most of it so most of that work has literally gone down the drain. Then the realities of doing a show at the fringe hit you. You can only get in for 15 minutes, there’s no backstage area, no technical team... all that sort of stuff. It hits you pretty hard.

You want to be able to show the audience something extraordinary that you can’t see anywhere else and at the Fringe there’s great pressure because there are so many magic shows now. The only problem I have with a lot of magic at the Fringe is that if you see a bad comedian, you go “Oh they were a bad comedian” and you go and try another one but if you see a bad magic show you go “That was bad. Magic’s boring.”

You don’t really think of going to see another magic show in case you see something better. It kills the whole thing. The amount of people you meet out and about who say they don;’t like magic, it’s not true at all. What they mean is that they don’t like the last magician they saw.

You may see the world’s best magician at the Fringe. You may also see the worst. But of course that’s what makes it exciting but my advice to people going to the Fringe is to just be open-minded. If you see something that you don’t like, maybe there’ll be something that you do like.

What can people expect from the show?

In many ways my show this year is a deconstruction of magic shows which has come out of my disillusionment with magic. Of course I absolutely love magic but I also got so bored of it so I though I had to shake it up somehow.

How have you shaken it up?

It’s interactive in that I ask the audience to bring something to the table too. I don’t want the audience to just sit back. Magic is a two-way conversation that you play with the audience. A lot of people are turned off by magic because they have this idea that they might be fooled.

But it’s not that at all. It’s a two-way game. The more they bring to the table the more I can give back.

Can you ever see a time where you no longer do magic?

I think it’s so deep within my life and under my skin and I absolutely love magic but I just can’t stand seeing magic tricks I’ve seen before, magic trick jokes I’ve heard before, magicians who think they’re funny but they’re not really that funny. I’m just so bored with all of that.

Magic can say so much more than it does at the moment.

What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?

It’s just seeing old friends. It’s like the one place every year where I know that I’m going to see people that I haven’t seen for the last year. Because the show I’m bringing up is a new show, I’m looking forward to that development process that happens with any show where it takes a while to get your material really tight.

But it would be unfair to the audience to bring them a show in a totally finished form because as I say, magic is a two-way street. The Fringe audience is pretty educated. They know what’s good, they know what’s not and they’re absolutely the best sounding boards. I’m just really enjoying creating the show and I’m constantly changing things in my material anyway.

It’s quite an exhausting month but it’s also fun. I’m looking forward to just enjoying Edinburgh. It’s the best place in the world during August. I can never explain it to people who haven’t been before, they just have to go.

You asked me earlier why I’m returning to the Fringe, and the truth is, it’s my holiday. As we know, the secret is, no performers make money at the Fringe. It’s almost impossible. So the question is “Why the hell are we up there?” and for those who perform all year round it’s not vanity, it’s just because it’s the best place to be. It’s like a reverse weird holiday where you face the fact that your holiday could be ruined by a bad review.

Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?

I’m always working on TV things but it’s a difficult beast because magic comes in and out of fashion. And typically in TV everyone sees an idea, everyone chases after that idea and then they realise that they’ve saturated it. I suspect that’s what happened with TV magic. We’ve had a lot of it in the last couple of years so you just wait for things to com back back around again.

A lot my time I spend designing magic tricks for other people, special effects for theatre and that sort of thing. I’m constantly beavering away at things anonymously in the background. Helping other magicians to create original work by being an antagonist in their process.

And finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?

A deconstruction of magic shows.

Ben Hart: Belief? runs Saturday 5th August to Sunday 27th August at 5:45pm at Gilded Balloon Teviot (Dining Room). Previews 2nd-4th August. No show Monday 14th August.


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