It’s time again for Hat Fair and the chance for everyone who happens to be in Winchester to bask in some phenomenal busking. This year the newly-appointed artistic director, Michelle Walker, has gathered together a troop of spectacular artists and performers to delight city folk and visitors alike in this playful street arts festival that is now 41 years young. Taking place from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th July, the festival is free to attend but do load your pockets with donations for the hard-working performers’ hats!
Some of the multitude of artists in this year’s programme include Winchester’s home-grown theatre company Wet Picnic, with ‘Suitcases’, an exploration of online baggage through bizarre buffoonery. They’ll be on at Cathedral Outer Close on Friday and Saturday, and then at Oram’s Arbor on Sunday.
Gobbledegook Theatre will be inviting family audiences to hear sounds underground in ‘Ear Trumpet’ on Pilgrim’s Lawn on Friday and Saturday. And children can meet and actually paint ‘Blanko’, who’ll be transformed from a blank canvas in Cathedral Inner Close.
If you’re arriving by train, or even if you aren’t, pop along to Winchester Station for a steamy romance from Flintlock Theatre at various times on Friday and Saturday. Bad Brass Band’s ‘Lands of Hope and Glory’ will be wandering the city playing rousing English tunes to keep everybody feeling nicely nostalgic.
At 12pm on Saturday there’ll be a ‘Swingtime’ dance flash mob. You can go online to learn the routine in advance if you’re super keen, or there’s also a workshop at the Great Hall in the morning. Time for a cuppa? If you visit the Brooks Shopping Centre, director Rebecca JS Nice will be exploring intimacy and immersion in her piece ‘How do you take it?’, part of Hat Fair Fringe, a new platform this year for emerging performers sponsored by the University of Winchester.
If it all gets a bit much and you need some down-time, Oxfam Books and Music have kindly sponsored an outside library in Abbey Gardens where you can settle down for a while with a good book.
Southpaw Dance will be providing a spectacular finale to Saturday night’s events at the bus station with Carousel, a fairground spectacular. The fairground itself will open at 7.45pm and the performance from this headline act will start at 9pm.
As usual, everything will wind down on Oram’s Arbour on Sunday, with plenty of food and entertainment for family audiences, including the amazing ‘Amazing Mr Fish’ and the chance to visit an authentic Camera Obscura.
Don’t forget to get the Hat Fair ‘app’ so you can hop from venue to venue and see as many events as possible.
Winchester welcomes the UK’s longest running street arts festival this weekend from Fri 4 to Sun 6 July with its 45 companies, 12 commissions, 6 commissioning partnerships and 4 UK premieres. Hat Fair has been providing some of the best in street theatre for 40 years, attracting 30,000 visitors each year.
“One of the great pleasures of Street Arts festivals is that they make you slow down and put the wonder back into everyday life. Wherever you were in Winchester at this year’s Hat Fair, you could hear the distant sound of laughter – as if the whole town was smiling together.” (Lyn Gardner, The Guardian)
It’s a completely free event, so you can just turn up and follow the Hat Fair ‘app’ on your smart phone or wander from venue to venue with a festival programme. Events are happening at The Theatre Royal, Discovery Centre, Chapter House Lawn, Cathedral Outer Close, Cathedral Inner Close, Abbey Gardens, The Broadway, Oram’s Arbour, Friary Gardens, The Great Hall, in the High Street (at locations 1&2), Parchment Street and The Square. Map.
Here are some of the Festival highlights from the team:
Friday 4 July
Start early with Gobbledegook’s pre-school friendly performances at 10 & 10.30am at the Theatre Royal and Discovery CentreSmall Wonders area. Garden Party features the ‘Grass Ladies’ clad in dresses made from artificial turf and offering a mix of music, nature and fun with a beautiful a cappella concert. Meanwhile, Gobbledegook’s Musikshed will have the under 5’s boogie-ing down. Small Wonders is a national initiative supported by the Arts Council and run by Bristol based Alchemy Productions creating outdoor work for the under-fives and their families.
The Museum of Everyday Life transforms Cathedral Outer Close (the cat grounds) at 12pm. Presented by French street theatre artists Les Cubiténistes, this event attempts to make the ordinary extraordinary. How? By using a live photographic studio to create an instant rolling exhibition of portraits and paintings of the public. Not to be missed for those curious about art being reimagined.
Meanwhile at 2, 4 & 6pm in Abbey Gardens the home-grown Winchester company Wet Picnic return with The Lift, a roving theatrical experience that envelops its audience, welcoming them into a world of captured moments. Participants can choose their own participatory adventure with the push of a button.
The festivities continue on Friday evening at 7pm with Tit for Tat at Abbey Gardens. Ryman & Lou invite us into their portable living room to share their passion for tea. Ever-prepared for a strong brew, they believe it only tastes good if you almost die making it. A silent comedy full of acrobatics, juggling and farce, this is not one to be missed. G. Bistaki will lure us in with poetic dance at the Broadway at 9.30pm. A cast of darkly-clad men transform into acrobats, culminating in a shattering finale; a perfect finish to the first day of the Festival.
Saturday 5 July
Saturday is when the festival truly comes into its own with events starting at 10am. The Great Hall is hosting a ‘Day of Dance’, with a mix of lively workshops and showcases taking place all day. Rebecca JS Nice featured some of the performances on offer in her recent blog, The Great Hall and The Hat Fair. Audiences are invited to come along and learn some new steps, from salsa to hip hop. At 12pm on Parchment Street the visual artist Jane Watson invites you to leave your body print on the pavement, literally sharing your physicality. If you head on over to Friary Gardens in Culver Road at 12:30pm you’ll catch Dante or Die / Peut-Etre performing Clunk. Three talented musicians interpret magical stories using Balkan music, song, and visual imagery to create both a concert and theatre piece perfect for early-years audiences and their families.
After a spot of lunch, stroll over to High Street 1 to catch Amazing Mr Fish at 1pm or 4pm as he rides a 10ft unicycle whilst balancing a goldfish on his left foot; a veritable treat of circus, comedy and mime. At 1:30 pm on The Chapter House lawnTiata Fahodzi, one of Britain’s leading African theatre companies, present The Legend of Hamba. An African Everyman play in a contemporary setting, Tiata Fahodzi uses Zimbabwe’s language of Ndebele to create a spirit of progress, vitality and forward thinking.
4:30pm at the Theatre Royal, Orkater presents Via Berlin, a Dutch musical theatre troupe with A Mouth Full of Sand, the journey of a Dutch woman seeking her lost husband in Afghanistan. The production uses a blend of classical and new music for violin, cello, percussion, sand, plastic and song.
On Sunday the festival returns to its traditional home at Oram’s Arbour near the train station. At 1pm & 4pm Jeremy Farquar presents The Fool, the Cow and the Art of Corruption, described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “Challenging, inspirational theatre”. The People’s Pitch will showcase up-and-coming street performance acts, or ‘Hatters’, from 1pm. Amelia Cadwallader is appearing at 2pm and 5pm with her celebrated Maple Staplegunwho’ll be armed with hula-hoops, office stationery and traditional circus ring techniques.