There’s a structural elegance to Ben Hart’s 2018 show The Nutshell. While many magic acts conclude with a routine that satisfyingly ties all the different threads and tricks together, few are as audacious as the one he pulls off.
Taking inspiration from Frances Glessner Lee’s Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, a series of dioramas made of famous crime scenes and used as teaching tools for forensic investigators, the show repeatedly returns to the theme of distillation and miniaturisation. The Butterfly Effect, the idea that a small shift in the weather in one part of the world can have a huge impact somewhere else, is frequently evoked.
Hart is skilful performer, even in a sweaty and inhospitable space with sight lines that don’t always play in his favour. He puts a fresh twist on familiar routines. He’s particular good at card tricks and sleight of hand, and delivers one seemingly physics-defying routine with confetti and a fan.
The material is rich with potential – Glessner Lee’s work is fascinating. Hart’s discussion of hallucinatory dreams and his evident attraction to the macabre adds an edge to proceedings.
But his mode of presentation sometimes lets things down. The faint smirk and sense of hesitancy means that he doesn’t completely put the audience at ease, something that is particularly evident in the more gruesome routines. The writing could also do with finessing, a little more wit, charm and polish to better generate a sense of wonder. As a result some of the reveals don’t quite get the response they deserve.
However, a final moment when he knits everything together so beautifully, even his seeming failures, is masterful.