My Festival: Ben Hart

The magician on a fear of cheese, playpens of puppies and why he’s so addicted to wonder

There are thousands of shows in Edinburgh this month. Please explain why we should come and see yours.

This is magic distilled into its purest essence. There is none of the cheesy stuff that makes magic seem like something only for kids. Every night I see adults’ faces light up with wonder and hear them gasp. It’s a very inclusive and warming experience.

What will we learn from your show that we didn’t know before?

Ben Hart PIC: Matt CrockettBen Hart PIC: Matt Crockett
Ben Hart PIC: Matt Crockett

I hope audiences will learn that there is magic everywhere, even right under our noses, and perhaps they might even learn a little about me and why I am so addicted to wonder.

Who or what was the biggest inspiration for your show?

I was inspired by traditional Indian street magic and its earthy and organic connection to life and death and fire and dust and rain and all that stuff. The show is performed with the audience surrounding me to recreate that kind of street-performance style.

What’s the best review you’ve ever had, and the worst?

The worst I ever had was from a reviewer who actually thought my magic must have been real and reviewed me saying, “It wasn’t really magic, though.” That was totally bizarre and made me laugh. The best reviews are from audience members who I meet often years later, and they talk about how my work has moved or inspired them.

Who or what are you most excited about seeing this year?

I’m a huge fan of a theatre maker Geoff Sobelle who has a show FOOD as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. I’m also excited to see a New Zealand circus comedy group called Laser Kiwi who I met a few years ago in Adelaide – their show is strange and funny and full of precise circus.

Who do you most like spending time with in Edinburgh?

I am a very solitary performer, really. I quite like to put my headphones in and shut off from the noise of the festival and people watch. I love to hang out with other magicians and talk tricks, and we will often all hang out in a bar until the sun comes up.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I have a phobia of cheese and I struggle to be in the same room as it.

What are the best and worst things that have happened to you at a festival?

The worst thing that’s happened to me at a festival was the year my suitcases got lost and I had to try to rebuild a show I had spent many months building in days with stuff I could get my hands on in a strange city. The best thing that’s ever happened to me at a festival was the year I walked out of my venue in Adelaide to find that there was a playpen filled with dozens of tiny puppies there to be played with for some strange reason.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?

In the morning I wake up and go straight for the coffee machine! At night I like to listen to podcasts or radio about the most obscure topics I can find. That always puts me to sleep. In fact, I listened for weeks to the opening of a podcast on taxation in the Roman empire and never made it further than that first boring minute!

Thanks for the interview! We’d like to buy you a drink. Where are we going and what are we drinking?

If you’re buying, then I’d like a whisky at Prestonfield House.

Ben Hart: Jadoo, Assembly George Square Gardens, 6pm, until 27 August