Browse reviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Ben Hart: The Nutshell

Ben Hart

Genre: Magic

Venue: Gilded Balloon


Low Down

Ben Hart uses the recurring theme of the “butterfly effect” to engage audiences in his illusion stories.


London performer Ben Hart has returned to the Fringe with a new magic and illusion show, The Nutshell.  It is a loosely strung-together story of the “butterfly effect”, the idea that a small change in weather in once place can give rise to a big tidal wave. For instance, a simple movement like the flapping of a wing by a butterfly can cause a tornado elsewhere. He adapts that to his magic show by engaging audience members in small actions that build to a greater scene, culminating in a stunning illusion.

The stage dressing is a dark and somewhat eerie set, with spooky music to put the crowd in the mood for some macabre surprises.  Hart then starts the story, and grabs the audience with the details of various crime scenes.  He shows pictures of famous miniatures created by Chicago housewife Frances Glessner Lee, who pioneered forensic science in the early 20th century by creating “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”. These were exact replica crime scenes built like doll houses, designed to train police to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell”. Hence, the title of the Fringe show.  Hart re-enacts some of the murders, telling the audience to “find the beauty in the macabre”.

Silks and other objects appear from thin air. There are illusions that show self-harm and blood, fan words into confetti and then an egg, accurately guess a phone number, and more, but I don’t want to spoil the surprises. All of them connect with the crime stories and all go to building the doll house scenes. All are performed with understated presentation. And all amaze the audience.

Hart’s strong suit is his card manipulation.  Through the use of a live camera, the audience can see the close-up work. He easily moves playing cards through a variety of tricks, even bringing a member of the audience on stage to shuffle with him.  His hand work is brilliant.

The pièce de résistance is the invitation to the audience come on stage and view the final display of the show, Hart’s own version of the doll house miniatures, with some stunning surprises.

Several of the other tricks are ones employed regularly by magicians. Hart generally manages to put a new spin on the tried-and-true tricks, such as using a thin string for the rope trick.  However, with his inventiveness, he could add new pieces that are not standard fare to better enhance the show.

The show feels stilted at times. There is an attempt to keep the butterfly theme going throughout. It is a clever idea but doesn’t always hold up.

Overall, Hart is a fine young illusionist who manages to fool even the most seasoned magic aficionados.