The Darkest Corners - Ben Hart
This book came out last year, early 2020. When I read it, I was inspired. When I read it a second time, I was even more inspired. It got a lot of praise when it was released, but I’m sad that the chatter has gone almost completely silent now. I thought this was a rather revolutionary book; one which made me re-evaluate the limits of a magic performance.
One thing which is quite interesting about this book is that it is all Ben Hart’s material, but the entire book is written by Neil Kelso, who has seen these pieces go from the beginning of an idea into the full form they are presented in this book. This outsider’s perspective is fascinating because he is able to point out aspects of the performance that perhaps Ben isn’t even aware of.
Introduction - This is written by Neil Kelso—the author of the book.
A Shot in the Dark - “A spectator locates an unburned match.”
This is a strikingly visual and theatrical revelation which happens in pitch black darkness. This breathes new life into an age old method., and the multiple performance ideas are all strong in their own right. This is a simple thing you can implement in any place you perform that could achieve total darkness.
Melocoton - “A signed piece of tissue exchanges places with the stone of a peach.”
This is Ben’s take on the silk to apple. The exchange provides an internal logic to the routine, and the peach makes for some great subtleties and a beautifully gradual revelation of the signed tissue in the middle of the peach.
Incubation - “An audience member thinks of any random object. The object is very slowly made to appear and is brought to life in mid-air in front of the audience.”
This is the piece Ben is most known for, and this section covers it all in excruciating detail. The final move in this routine fooled me every single time I watched a video of Ben performing the routine. I could never spot his steal, and now I know why. It is so naturally obscured thanks to the outward actions of the performer. This is a routine that feels like real magic.
To Video… or Not To Video - This is Ben’s argument for why every performer should use a camera and live projection in their show; in fact, Ben says performing without one is like performing without a mic in today’s climate. This brought up some interesting points I had never considered, and it certainly has me thinking more about using projection in my shows.
Nuts - “A spectator is selected by throwing a walnut into the audience. They remember a time when they acted “mad” and crack open the walnut. Inside is a tiny scroll, which summarizes that memory.”
This is one of my favorite routines in the book. It will take some practice to do it deceptively, but the method, choreography, and some very slight dual reality creates something which is virtually impossible to backtrack. I love the visuals described in this, and I think it is a marvelous routine.
Glitterbomb - “Russian roulette with an envelope of glitter.”
Ben tackles this problem in Russian Roulette: when does it no longer become believable? By that, he means what is a consequence of the incorrect choice that feels like you would genuinely do it if they chose incorrectly? This is a great take on the RR as it doesn’t add any danger, but it adds entertainment value. It’s a simple method allowing you to concentrate on the performance; in fact, I have already used this in one of my parlor shows.
Magic on the Radio - This is a brief essay to introduce the concept of magic over the radio and leads into two routines that demonstrate the principles.
Coins Across the Airwaves - Listeners will hear four coins travel to the host’s hands despite you being across the room as the coins travel. This is some wonderful dual reality which really sets up the idea that the performer is far away from the host as these coins impossible fade away and appear in their hands.
Cards Rising Through the Airwaves - Listeners will hear the host describe a thought of card rising out of a deck of cards they are holding in their own hands and flying so high, it almost hits the ceiling. Again, a great use of dual reality to cement a strong visual image in the minds of the listeners.
A Gift from Venus - “The psychokinetic control of a Venus Flytrap.”
A unique housewarming gift turns into a demonstration they won’t forget. This isn’t something you’ll be adding to your stage or table hopping set, but if the time is right, and the gig is right, this is a gift they will remember for a long time.
Card in Balloon - “Ben’s visual and dramatic presentation of chosen-card-to-impossible-location.”
This has a slightly complicated set up, but it gives you a visual of a balloon slowly sinking as a card “appears” inside. The visuals adds a nice dynamic to an otherwise stale premise.
Roots - “Family trees. Roots. Ritual. And a revelation of secret information.”
This goes to show how Ben squeezes the most out of a product. This is a very theatrical and earthy revelation of an ancestors initials. Ben is certainly not afraid to go big.
Pen Through Note Ideas - This is a small piece of scripting you can add into a pen through bill routine in a stage setting which makes it appear as if the note restores in the spectator’s hand. It’s a clever idea even if it is a bold.
Hart to Hofzinser - “A chosen card appears rolled inside a spectator’s wedding ring.”
This is Ben’s take on one of the notorious Hofzinser’s problems. This solution is simple and very direct, but the theatrical staging equals more than the sum of its parts. This is a routine I’d really like to add into my show. It is thoroughly intriguing to me.
The Human Lottery Machine - “The audience generates a random four-digit number. The magician regurgitates four solid balls one by one, each with a single digit printed on it, revealing the randomly generated number.”
What an odd routine! This is totally different and it’s a geek magic type effect without being overly grotesque. Ben’s handling of the Add-A-Number pad is the best I’ve seen. It changes the moment completely; this new principle is something you can implement in almost any Add-A-Number routine you currently do. It’s marvelous.
Fake News - Ben cleverly makes an effect out of nothing. This isn’t a trick in itself, in fact, it isn’t even anything that is performed, but it can leave a lasting impression on the person/venue who hires you for an event.
The Boy Who Cried Diamonds - “Making a diamond fall from your tear duct.”
Oddly, this effect isn’t even listed on the contents list. This is a small moment you can use as a thank you for your helper on stage. It is totally surreal and magical. This is geek magic turned into something meaningful and surely magical.
Written in Your Blood - A geek magic stunt turned into a reveal of a thought of word. It’s incredibly theatrical and will certainly leave a strong impression.
The Matrix Rings - “Ben’s work on The Himber Rings—the linking and unlinking of three borrowed wedding rings.”
This is one of the best Himber Ring routines I’ve ever seen. Ben has created strong moments of magical, and the entire routine exudes mystery. Based around a simple line from the matrix, Ben does the impossible and uses props which are totally justified. The sections starts by talking about where to perform this—on stage or in the audience. Ben makes a strong point for performing it in the audience. Read this section, and I think you’ll agree. This wins the WTP award*
Advertising Banner - “A word cut from a sheet of newspaper appears tied to the back of an airborne fly.”
This is easily the most surreal piece in the book. It isn’t necessarily practical for a large theatre, and you certainly wouldn’t want to do it at a banquet where there’s food, but for the right place, what an odd and memorable effect. The one thing which is slightly daunting about performing it is that you have no clue where the fly will land and if the prediction will even be able to be read. But assuming all goes well, this is something the audience would talk about for years.
A Word in Amber - “A word cut from a newspaper appears suspended inside an amber necklace.”
This is another way to reveal a line selected from a newspaper. This is much more practical than the previous effect, but certainly not as visually exciting.
The Fragility of Life - “A stage-filling reworking of Robert E Neale’s ‘Soul Survivor.’”
Through a presentation of a terrible plague which tears through a small village (too soon?) eggs are chosen and “killed” by breaking them into a bowl. The final unchosen egg is thrown in the air and when it lands in the glass bowl, something incredibly unexpected happens… I’l leave the specifics for you to find out when you read the book.
Closing Thoughts - This is the one section in the entire book written by Ben Hart himself giving thanks to the team that brought the book to life.
This is one of the most inspiring magic books I’ve ever read. Ben’s style is very different than anyone else in the magic world. His magic feels “real” and organic. All of his work is theatrical to whole new extent, and his methods are surefire and audience tested. I think it would be impossible to read this and not be inspired. Will you be using a ton of the material from the book? No, probably not, but the theatricality of his work is something to strive towards.
*The Worth The Price Award, or WTP Award for short, is a new system I will have in place when reviewing products. Look out for the WTP Award(s) to know which routine(s) or principle(s) is my favorite.