The more spectacular the tools an illusionist uses, the harder it is to feel a genuine sense of wonder at their work: as the sophistication of the kit increases, so do the opportunities for hidden gimmickry. It’s to the credit of the remarkably dextrous Ben Hart, then, that the most eye-boggling moments of his set ‘The Outsider’ seemingly involve no more than a matchstick, banknote or ball. The show’s success rests on the twin assets of technical prowess and charisma. To watch Hart’s spidery fingers at work is a show in itself: whether rolling imaginary cigarettes, manipulating coins or folding paper, his sleight of hand is extraordinary – you'd be excused for thinking he's got a few more knuckles than the rest of us. His stage presence is just as striking: looking a little like a lanky boy-band member (he’s in his early twenties), Hart fixes the audience with a stare somewhere between get-this cockiness and love-me anxiety, generally accompanied by a cheeky, lopsided grin you imagine hasn’t changed much since the childhood shows he reports putting on for his family. Directed by Derren Brown’s collaborator Anthony Owen, ‘The Outsider’ is structured as an exploration of Hart’s lifelong feelings of alienation, presented as a spectrum of experiences ranging from feeling left out at school to something like psychopathy. It’s a neat device and you sense a kernel of honesty beneath it, even if it’s familiar turf for magicians and true sympathy is hindered by the evident hyperbole at work in Hart’s spiel. But, vitally for an illusionist, he's a powerful enough storyteller for that not to matter, weaving silky narratives that sweep you along as he lets his fingers do their thing.
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