“Hat Fair is a bit like letting your cheeky cousin loose in Winchester,” says festival director Andrew Loretto. “It’s playful, it’s fun and it’s full of surprises, but most of all it empowers local people to celebrate and re-imagine where they live.”
Celebrating the street theatre and music that have added colour to the city for centuries, Hat Fair was conceived as a busking festival in 1974. It’s now the UK’s longest-running festival of outdoor arts, and attracted over 53,000 people last year with 120 live performances.
This summer Hat Fair runs from 29 June to 1 July, with international artists joining those from across the country for three days of dance, theatre, circus and music as well as interactive experiences for all ages.
“We’re especially celebrating inclusivity and diversity and championing local voices this year,” Andrew says.
Hat Fair launches on Friday with a parade celebrating 100 years of votes for women, starting at noon at Winchester Cathedral and finishing at Guildhall. Acts that day include Blazing Saddles by Bicycle Ballet, and BLOCK, a collaboration between NoFit State, a leading contemporary circus company, and Motionhouse, who integrate dance with acrobatics, using giant Jenga-style blocks.
Saturday sees Hatters performing throughout the city, and a focus on entertainment for children, including a piece set inside a whale, a family-friendly musical, Bicycle Boy, and the Bewonderment Machine in Abbey Gardens.
“A new initiative, in partnership with the University of Winchester, is the Top Hat competition,” Andrew says. “Students and recent graduates will be performing, with the audience’s favourite receiving mentoring support to develop their production for next year’s Hat Fair and other arts events.
“High-profile companies led by performers with disabilities feature widely on this year’s programme and include Mind The Gap presenting Mirror Mirror, dance from Candoco, and Winchester’s Blue Apple Theatre.”
Hat Fair’s traditional Sunday family picnic moves to North Walls recreation ground with a programme of acts bringing together local community groups and professional artists.
“I can’t think of a city more suited to Hat Fair,” Andrew says. “Not only does Winchester have a fantastic mix of heritage, but it’s also friendly and outward-looking. I have never lived in a place with so many festivals.”