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Hat Fair 2023

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Hat Fair is the UK’s longest-running festival of Outdoor Arts.

This year the festival runs from Friday, 30 June – Saturday, 1 July and takes over Winchester’s city streets and green spaces with bold street theatre, music, dance, circus and more. 

Hat Fair carnival

Carnival credit Adrienne Photography

The festival will start with a Carnival – an explosion of colour featuring hundreds of local school-children who will be dressed in costumes based on this year’s theme, ‘Shout About It’, and joined by other local community groups who have all played their part in the creation of Carnival.

Hat Fair Shows

Big Gay Disco Bike

Big Gay Disco Bike credit Emma Jones

From there, Hat Fair will host many shows it has co-commissioned as a member of Without Walls – a network of festivals that work with artists to bring outdoor arts to the UK. Including Thingumajig Theatre’s miniature wandering puppet festival, A la Puppet Carte; Fatt Projects’ Big Gay Disco Bike, bringing disco to the people; a dance, fashion and lip-synch battle judged by the audience – Family Catwalk Extravaganza – courtesy of Ghetto Fabulous; Sonia Sabri Company’s dance piece inspired by traditional Indian and Persian miniature paintings, Mughal Miniatures; a bar installation that when touched creates sounds – Working Boys Club’s Serving Sounds; and headline festival experience, Unlimited Theatre and Upswing’s Ancient Futures, which blends dance, circus, parkour, music and storytelling and inspired by West African folklore and futurism. 

crowd watching a performer at the Hat Fair

credit Adrienne Photography

Hat Fair, named after the ‘hatters’ – performers who hold out a hat following their performance to collect donations. Each year hatters come from around the world to the delight of passers-by. This year’s hatters showcase death-defying hoop stunts (Angie Mack), physical comedy, miming and circus skills (Mr Banana), acrobatics, live ukulele music and cheeky idiocy (Barada Street), clown skills (Herbie Treehead), deadpan unspoken comedy and oversized artworks (Jon Hicks); comic magic (Richard Kimberly); juggling and synchronized dance (Fit Up Productions).


Tape That performing at Hat Fair

Tape That credit David Hegarty

There will also be performances from professional acts such as The Trick Brothers with Skiing Odyssey, which sees two cross-country skiers lost on a wandering journey with an obscure course and ending, featuring street theatre, self-irony, juggling and kind humour; Seve Feathers’ Fleeting witnesses a performer and singer coated in powered chalk combine circus and dance movements to explore the intentions of the body; while, Hands Down Circus’ Tape That is a charming, light-hearted and non-verbal acrobatic duet where two performers construct a visual world with only a simple roll of colourful tape and acrobatics.

On Saturday evening, there will be a party, a guilty pleasures confessional, hosted by Gobbledegook Theatre’s High Priestess of Pop and the Disco Druids – who festival-goers will see roaming the city streets on Friday and Saturday, playing party music – with The Hush Club’s Rave Rover – a glittering DJ booth on wheels.

High Priestess of Pop and the Disco Druids

High Priestess of Pop and the Disco Druids

Hat Fair also celebrates local and young talent, and this summer, performers from school years 4 – 11 from the Playmakers’ Youth Theatre groups present their one-of-a-kind performances – with themes including endangered species and actions and consequences. 

Plus, the festival welcomes back Georgina Willis, who won last year’s Playmakers’ Top Hat competition that showcases outdoor work from students and recent graduates of the University of Winchester. Georgina returns with How to Disappear, exploring disability and chronic illness plus, there will be works in progress from this year’s Top Hat entries. 

Singers and performers from Winchester-based Blue Apple Theatre Company – which works with people with learning disabilities – return with a mix of song choices and singing styles and a bright and colourful, friendly walkabout piece that connects with the audience. 

Eastleigh’s Orb Youth Dance Co. will perform Borderline, which explores the plight of displaced people, while Winchester-based wheelchair dance group, Liberate Dance, will challenge what wheelchair dance looks like with Lion – St Mesa.

Hampshire Cultural Trust’s immersive attraction, 878AD, comes to life on the city streets – the Anglo-Saxons share their stories. Other local artists will perform rock and folk songs and music; modern songs; vintage classics; uplifting summer songs; and choir numbers.

Finally, the Crazy Golf Company and hugely popular children’s entertainer Juggling Jake are back; festival goers can learn how to screen print; 100 pieces of artwork created by children and young people form a floating exhibition raising awareness of mental health and celebrating the NHS. Plus, spectators can watch a magical miniature show called Hope through a small window of a Brazilian-style micro puppet theatre. 

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