Hello Ben, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Hello Mumble. I am both from, and at, North London. Somewhere between Finchley and Golders Green. Although I left my heart in Edinburgh.
When did you first realise you were, well, magical?
My grandfather used to buy me magic tricks when I was a kid which was an early hobby but the tricks did all the hard work. I got back into it during my Psychology degree when I realised the aptitude I had for analysing and interpreting body language, so I guess in my early twenties I started honing in on that, then developed the skills to influence behaviour (strictly for entertainment purposes) a few years later. That’s the real magic.
There is a lot of showbiz front to your performances, does this come naturally?
I’ve always sought the limelight – in my first year of university I was doing radio shows, stand-up comedy, acting, quizmastering, karaoke and DJing in clubs and it’s all rolled on from there really. I guess the showbiz side of my personality has developed at a similar rate to the transition into adulthood, and being on stage was already a part of me before I learned hypnosis. A hypnosis show is basically two shows in one anyway – one for the volunteers and one for the audience so if you don’t have a natural ability to perform to an audience then you can’t do the artform justice even if you’re a strong hypnotist. In fact, the stage skills are the harder of the two to master.
You know a good show when its happened, what are the special ingredients?
You know a good show from the moment the volunteers come up on stage. You can read the room, get a feel for how the volunteers will take to the trance and the suggestions. To make a hypnosis show as good as it can be, you need a balance between a strong performance from the hypnotist and volunteers. The onus on me is selecting the right sketches to use, keeping the show flowing well, giving the right suggestions to the right volunteers. There’s a thousand decisions and they all have an impact. But I only have so much control, for the show to be truly special I need creative volunteers whose imaginations and responses to the suggestions are bold, diverse and unpredictable. I set up the scenes but without volunteers with a natural talent to enter trance and deliver on the suggestions I’m merely more than a man on a stage with ambitions.
What does Ben Dali like to do when he’s not being, well, magical?
Outside of magic and hypnosis I’m a big fan of films and quizzes. I present a couple of pub quizzes a week in London and appear on TV gameshows whenever opportunity presents (my main achievements being a one-episode win of Countdown in 2004 and The Chase in 2012, as well as Take Me Out last year). To be honest though, I live and breathe Edinburgh Fringe year round, I spend autumn thinking, winter planning, spring writing and summer promoting so when I’m not being magical I’m preparing to.
One of your major coups was tricking a knight of the realm, Sir Ian McKellen, can you tell us about the experience?
Ah. You want secrets? OK I’ll share one with you. One of my main effects, in fact the one which kickstarted my career in Mentalism is identifying which card someone has selected by asking them a series of questions while they respond ‘no’ to all. I work out when they’re lying and deduce the card. Hopefully. I met Sir Ian (or ‘Kellers’ to his mates) in a pub and asked if he’d like to try me on for size (not like that) and he was up for it. There was so much going on with his responses it was enlightening to see how a lifelong thespian compared to people not used to lying, which is similar to acting. I couldn’t pick up on his tell so worked out when he was ‘acting’ the most and correctly called him on the 7 of Clubs.
You are returning to the Fringe for another stint, can you tell us what you’re up to?
Of course, Mumble. So I’m bringing Edinburgh a brand new hypnosis show written especially for the festival, called ‘Take A Trance On Me’. The format is the same as last year – introduce hypnosis, invite volunteers on stage, hypnotise them, administer a series of sketches selected to maximise the quality of the show based on the volunteers, then wake them up. What’s special about this new show is that all the sketches are set in Edinburgh around the festival to give it that extra personal touch – there’ll be bagpiping in the Tattoo, flyering on the Royal Mile, surviving a night in the haunted Edinburgh Castle and starring in Edinburgh’s Got Talent. It’s gonna be a blast! I’ll also be hosting a nightly cabaret show with different star names in comedy and cabaret from across the Fringe called The Not So Secret Society. Details on facebook.com/NotSoSecretEd
You have been touring now for 5 years, how has your show evolved over that time?
My last show ‘Strictly Come Trancing’ was always evolving – I wrote the show in 2012 then added to my repertoire of sketches every time I thought of something exciting and new until the full show was a different landscape to the original set list. The introduction and format remain the same but the sketches have higher production value and are more topical and open to audience participation. With ‘Take A Trance On Me’ the whole show was written from scratch so I brought in a high profile Scottish cabaret artist called Frodo Allan (aka Rufus T) to direct and help develop it so it is well polished and has the benefit of his expertise as well.
Can you describe the Fringe experience in a single sentence?
The Fringe is a month-long rollercoaster where you wake up each morning not knowing what potentially life-changing events and encounters await you, only that interesting things will happen that you couldn’t experience in any other environment, any other time or place in history.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Ben Dali?
That’s a question nobody can answer before August. Hopefully I’ll find an agent and some high profile bookings through Edinburgh Fringe and continue to tour Take A Trance On Me to any venues in the UK or abroad that are up for a contemporary hypnosis show. I’d like to move closer towards student unions, corporate, cruise ship and holiday park circuits. I’d love to get more time performing Mind Reading on stage and close-up as well. I’ll continue running my monthly free cabaret show Not So Secret Society London in Elephant & Castle (facebook.com/NSSSLondon) and work towards Edinburgh Fringe 2018.
BEN DALI WILL BE PERFORMING HIS SHOW, TAKE A TRANCE ON ME
Aug 5-27 (13.35)
Liquid Room Annexe (Venue 276)