Ben Hart has a quiet presence on stage. In a crisp suit and sneakers, a wry grin and musing tone, he quickly reveals that, "When I close my eyes, I can feel only numbers." It is the first of a series of philosophical musings that will set the tone for Hart's show: a mysterious and wonderful examination of the nature of belief. The name of his show, Belief (in case that wasn't clear) was arbitrarily chosen but, he quickly realised, was at the very heart of his work as a magician. For, to make something disappear, he begins, holding up a pen, he has to believe that it never existed in the first place. Disappearance, reappearance and optical illusions are what Hart excels at, and for an hour he has his audience transfixed with playing cards, wedding rings and shadows.
Hart explains, through a succinct and articulate description of entropy and the laws of thermodynamics, that there are fewer atoms on our planet than there are potential sequences for the shuffling of a deck of cards. When you put it like that, what he does next is nothing short of extraordinary. This is what Hart does best: he urges us to rid ourselves of the desire to look for the 'trick' in his illusions. Mystery can be more wonderful than knowledge, he urges us, and so when he challenges his audience 'volunteer' to open his Schrodinger-style envelope and reveal whether or not he has, in fact, achieved a feat of disappearance, it seems almost a shame to follow through. But of course, this is all part of the act. He knows we want to open the envelope, to reveal his success (or failure), but what he really does is get to the heart of 'belief'. What is illusion, and what is real? Can both be so at once?
A tremendous 'magic shadow show' (an illusion based on the 11th century poetry of Persian mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam) challenges the boundaries between illusion, reality and what we perceive, and the use of live-video streaming of his close-up magic enhances this divide. After all, he says, if you have enough belief, an optical illusion can become a reality. Ben Hart makes it so, and as we become more and more astounded at his mastery of magic, he continually reminds us not to look for the trick. He wants us to enjoy the magic for what it is: wonderful, astonishing, and something that sometimes truly challenges what we believe to be true. While a more intimate venue than Gluttony's Parasol Lounge may have better suited the show, it is not difficult to enjoy what Hart does. He is an astonishing magician, an a wonderful way to spend an hour at the Fringe. Believe me.