Walking into Ben Hart’s ‘The Nutshell’ one could be confused into thinking that they’d entered Hannibal Lecter’s office. The stage is dark & smoky, with a single spotlight illuminating a lone walnut centered on a dining table that is set for two. Medical instruments replace the cutlery and undoubtedly set the tone for the hour of unsettling coincidences and cryptic conjuring that is to follow.
Hart appears from the back of the room, flustered, perplexed and speaking rapidly. This persona continues throughout the show. It is infrequently broken which helps build the suspense to the finale but similarly it sometimes detracts as Hart’s aversion to improvisation appears notable on several occasions. This is where we see glimpses of a truly flustered Hart.
The many scientific premises within The Nutshell are neatly woven together scriptually [Yes, we’re coining that.] but the lack of cohesion magically makes the transitions between the mentalism aspects of his show more apparent. Shoe horned would be a step too far, as the audience around me undoubtedly enjoyed the wonderful sleight of hand skill that Hart possesses. It is in these segments that the Hart starts beating. His once vacant eyes become relics of his mentalism presentations and Hart begins to breathe life into classic magic effects.
Staggered by the volume of information one can offload during a magic show it did at times feel like I had slipped into an alternate dimension where I, along with 80 others, listened to a physics lecture led by a youthful Tim Burton. Somewhat paradoxically Hart frequently refers to multi-dimensional theory and the narcotic induced “trip” he experienced when creating The Nutshell. Whether true or not is beyond reasoning, as to question at all is proof alone of The Nutshell’s enigmatic hook.
Smart call-backs to earlier feats, neat coincidental reveals and expertly executed magic lead you to forget small slips of the tongue or the dropping of a pack of cards in the build up to Hart’s finale. This unfortunate event did not detract, and fortunately for Hart, reinforced his previously referenced fallibility, the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
There’s something deeply unsettling about The Nutshell that goes beyond the magic effects and the prediction-based mentalism routines Hart presents. An ethereal and sometimes irrational dissection of one’s own existence fused with the childlike wonder of a magic show mentally and physically conflict and although The Nutshell proves it can be done, should it?
Hart has skill, presence and a clockwork like regularity that makes his performance dependable. There’s a reason why the room is almost full. In this latest offering, despite the creative macabre reveals, mathematical improbabilities and frankly wonderful final reveal it is the direct simplicity of an appearing egg that had everybody talking on the way out.
Ben Hart – The Nutshell
Gilded Balloon Teviot
1-27 August 2018