Magician Ben Hart gears up for astonishment at Wilton’s Music Hall

Illusionist prepares to dazzle audiences at a pair of London dates at the Wapping venue in July

Image shows magician Ben Hart, a man with short dark hair covering one eye with a brightly coloured peacock feather
Magician Ben Hart began performing magic as a child

Subscribe to our free Wharf Whispers newsletter here

As he’s a magician, it is – of course – impossible to completely trust anything Ben Hart says.

It’s a grey day in London when I call him on a cruise ship in Mykonos where he’s performing.

He assures me the weather is equally crap off the Greek island.

Maybe it is, maybe he just wants to make me feel better.  

Making people feel things is Ben’s trade.

At 16 he was awarded The Magic Circle’s Young Magician Of The Year in 2007, having started practising tricks as a kid.

One of 300 members of the organisation’s Inner Magic Circle, his career since leaving school has seen him perform all over the world.

He’s been a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent: The Champions as well as teach the likes of Tom Cruise close-up illusions for the latest Mission Impossible.

He’s set to appear at Wilton’s Music Hall in his latest show, Jadoo, with performances on July 15 and 16, 2024.

While we chat about his return to London, he casually mentions he’s just been helping Russell Crowe and Rami Malek accrue skills.

These have been used in their forthcoming movie Nuremberg, for a scene where US military psychiatrist Lt Colonel Dougals Kelley shows Hermann Göring a coin trick.

Images shows a man in a white shirt with sand running through his fingers from an unseen source above
Ben aims to astonish his audiences

Ben Hart – teaching the teacher

“I really enjoy teaching other people,” said Ben.

“Part of my work is consulting, and it wouldn’t be possible for me to be a performer if I wasn’t still teaching because the process really teaches me.

“These people are titans – I’ll be showing them a simple piece of magic and suddenly I’ll see something I didn’t expect – weaknesses or strengths that I can incorporate into my own work.

“With movies, I’ve been really interested in when people blink.

“Actors rarely do it because their faces can take up so much space on a screen that movement can be a big statement that might not be necessary.

“In my own work I’ve realised that I blink all the time – even when I’m doing something sneaky, which is a bit of a tell.

“That’s the kind of lesson you learn. Then, when I’m designing work for other magicians, their creativity informs what I’m doing in a symbiotic way.

 “Any artist has to collaborate at some level.

“By tradition, magic is very solitary and that’s detrimental to it as a form.

“By collaborating, I’ve broken down some of the self-inflicted barriers I’ve made for myself.”

Image shows Ben with his fingers steepled, surrounded by light bulbs
Magician Ben Hart says he finds it easier to interact with an audience when there’s a script

Ben Hart – an outsider

Nevertheless, Ben paints himself as a an outsider.

On the cruise ship he tells me he goes for breakfast with his cap pulled down: “The audience is a bit too captive.

“There’s nothing worse than being famous and having an audience that can’t leave.

“They just want to chat but, like any performer I rely on my scripts and I don’t like environments where I can’t do that”.

It’s part jest, but also part truth.

He paints a picture of a man “trapped” by his own talent and early success – at once fascinated by the research and plagued by the ideas for tricks that will take years to realise or perhaps will never be performed.

Should we take him at face value, or is his apparent honesty all part of the patter?

Image shows Ben Hart with symbols painted on his hands running sand through his fingers
Ben says he aims to unlock people’s sense of wonderment through his performances

why magic is a painful process for Ben Hart

“Making new work can be quite a painful process,” he said.

“What happens is, you think of an impossible idea – anyone can do that – and then you do research to see how you can edge yourself closer to that becoming a trick.

“That process for me now takes longer and longer – it can be years.

“There’s usually no light bulb moment.

“A magic trick is a synthesis of compromises – magic is not possible, so you have to make accommodations and work out how the audience can see them as I want.

“It’s also a process that’s difficult to talk about, because the magician’s canvas is the bit nobody sees – that they shouldn’t even be aware of.

“My job is to host an evening of entertainment – all of my choices are about making sure the audience’s experience is amazing.

“I’m not interested in how hard it is to fool them, it’s more about getting them to a place where they can go on the journey.

“I’m like a tour guide who can take them somewhere where they might be able to experience something amazing. 

“As a magician I want to reveal to the audience a feeling of astonishment which is already inside them.

“Everyone knows we’re capable of feeling wonderment, but it’s infrequent that we get to do it. I create this environment.”

That’s exactly what audiences at Wilton’s can expect when Ben takes the stage, albeit with limited props.

Image shows Ben wearing a white suit jacket with his wrists crossed in shadow play
Ben says he insisted on performing at Wilton’s Music Hall as it’s his favourite venue in London

a special venue

“It’s really one of my favourite venues in the whole world,” said Ben.

“I’ve been lucky enough to perform all over the place, but having a venue that’s old and full of atmosphere is incredible – I really love it.

“It’s also a very good venue for magic in terms of audience sight lines.

“Because it’s so stripped back, there can’t be any feeling that there are people hiding anywhere.

“My show is rooted in storytelling and I hope the magic I do has a bit more power behind it than people might have experienced before.

“I have stripped back all the cheesy Paul Daniels stuff. 

“There are no sequins – I don’t insult the audience’s intelligence by getting them to think that a box is empty or anything like that.

“Coming at it from a contemporary stance, I’ve managed to create the kind of magic show you might have seen 100 years ago, but you would seldom see now.

“Almost everything I do depends on objects borrowed from the audience, so they know they’re legitimate – not fakes. 

“I think magic is an incredibly direct and creative form.

“I can get a gasp of amazement from an audience within 60 seconds of the show starting and that’s amazingly efficient theatre.

“The audience goes on a sort of magical rollercoaster during the show – it’s like a theme park level of emotion.

“An object you thought was there, isn’t, or that something isn’t what you thought it was.

“Magic is a kind of mind-hacking, really playing with people’s perceptions and how they remember things – it’s fascinating stuff.

“It reminds us that you can’t trust everything in the world.

“Magicians can hold a lot of emotional power, which can be neglected.

“We need to remember we’re all living in an illusion and this is a magical thing.”

creating new tricks

As for the future, Ben says he has at least 10 tricks that he’s continuing to slave over, although that number just represents the ones where there’s a chance of completion.

“There are loads of things I’d love to do in front of an audience,” he said.

“Most are miles away from being finished.

“I’ve also got a list of stuff I’ve been working on since I was a kid, which I don’t think will ever be performed.

“I’d especially love to do a version of an old Indian street magic trick called the Mango Tree Illusion.

“A seed is planted and – over the course of a 30-minute show – it grows into a tree, complete with fruit.

“The magician then cuts the mangoes off so people can see they’re real.

“The traditional secret is to swap out the trees when the audience isn’t looking.

“There have been many takes on it and I’ve been working on mine for years but whether I’ll ever solve it, I don’t know.”

key details: Ben Hart at Wilton’s Music Hall

Ben Hart: Live is set to be performed on July 15 and 16, 2024, at Wilton’s Music Hall in Wapping.

Both shows start at 7.30pm and last 90 minutes plus an interval.

Tickets start at £12.50.

Find out more about the show here

Read more: How The Body People brings movement to East Wick And Sweetwater

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to our free Wharf Whispers newsletter here

- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
Subscribe To Wharf Life