Winchester Hat Fair

Feature in Issue 18-4 | Winter 2006

First OZSTAR AIRLINES: circus tricks and hula-hooping and acrobalance from two air hostesses, Tracey and Stacey – one smooth, one fragile – notable for (a) generating the most good cheer of any show I saw, and (b) dealing extremely well with a small child who wandered into the performance space and just, like, strutted around in there while his parents made zero effort to retrieve him. Next up ARTIZANI’S REVOLUTION, a love/marriage story in verse, acted on and across and around a revolving, ever-changing set where the walls collapsed and unfolded and locked into new configurations — the whole thing powered by bicycle. It had an odd delirious edge that was different from anything else at the Fair, but there was no time to dwell on it because it was off down the road to SWIZZLESHAKER, stopping for STRANGELINGS who had what felt like an early-stage show, inventive but unalive. But forget that because on to SWIZZLESHAKER – who may or may not have been SWIZZLESHAKER, despite the claim of the chalked sign (there’s some debate) – but whoever juggled for about ten seconds and ‘participated’ a member of the audience and spent most of the show scaring her (but in a nice way), the whole thing carried by the performer’s considerable charm. Then off up the road past two fire-jugglers and a human statue and a man covered in blood and mortally wounded, up into the Cathedral grounds and further into the twisted world of Fool and Hat Fair founder JONATHAN KAY, where I became an ostrich. We all did. And we wandered around the grounds worrying and ‘participating’ strangers, lining a pathway and applauding whoever walked down, the whole thing strange and exhilarating, but, on reflection, maybe focused outward in a way that was detrimental and a little smug, the inhibitions of strangers getting a rougher ride than our own. Then England lost on penalties. Then exiting a pub encountered a coiled, springy dragon made from hubcaps cut and reconstituted, placed atop a customised wheeled chassis and pushed forward by four warriors who loved to drum – this DRAGON HEART BEATS by POSITIVE PRODUCTIONS. It ran down Broadway, which has a pub every thirty yards, it seems like, picking up disconsolate fans on the way and depositing them at a large stage. There followed a musical interlude with some human beat-box people. Then the BUREAU OF SILLY IDEAS spent approximately half an hour trying to replace a streetlamp’s lightbulb, falling over each other and sometimes just falling over, doing acrobatics and basic clowning. It never pulled the audience all the way in, but was worth it for the late stages where the BUREAU brought out the aerialists, and, better, an enormous crane/lighting rig/aerialist cradle that was a real monster, some kind of —osaurus for sure.
John Ellingsworth

It’s the Hat Fair and the sun is shining (Hat Fair without rain, can this be?). I’m sorry to be perverse, but I like the grey gloom and rain of a British summer, and it really is too hot for me. I wander round pretty aimlessly, find John, miss most of the things on my allotted schedule. I join in with the JK OSTRICH business (have been one before, at The Big Green Gathering last year, where we were also sheep and where people performed impromptu stripteases at Jonathan’s invitation – the home crowd at Winchester are a little less forthcoming). I also see the STRANGELINGS’ new show, which I agree isn’t quite there yet, and I have reservations about these mock-Caesar Twins piss-take male acrobalance thingies – there’s a few of them around at the moment, cf Freaks in a Box etc – come on lads, bananas? Now, I must see some shows on my own schedule. I fail, mostly. Aha – a refuge from the sun. A tent/booth type thing in which I find THE SÉANCE. The latest from female clown extraordinaire PASCHALE STRAITON is a little gem; I’m a sucker for these street arts sideshow sort of things, and this one’s great. We are welcomed in by the Madam of the establishment (FZ’s Flick Ferdinando, on great form). She’s all wide eyes and gypsy flowing robes and kohl eye makeup and high camp melodrama, warning us of the perils of dealing with the dead. She takes us through and we are drawn into a tale of murdered lovers, weeping portraits, and dead canaries who return to haunt… In the corner is our connection to the spirit world; medium Paschale S is all lumpy, heaving bosom, angsty groans and projectile vomiting ectoplasm. Wonderful stuff!

At last, the cool of the night… my allocated shows in the Saturday evening programme are the arty, dancy ones on and around The Great Hall Steps (which are as grand as they sound). First up is THE WRONG SIZE with LUMINOUS. I’ve seen an earlier version of this piece at The Circus Space Cabaret, but here it really comes into its own: a half-dozen ethereal figures in white, on stilts (can you be ethereal on stilts? I think so) are decked with lights, creating a symphony of ever-changing colour combinations as figures move from background to foreground in cleverly choreographed combinations. That’s it basically. But if you are into Goethe’s colour theory, you’ll know the power of colour combination as a dramatic event. And even if you aren’t, you can appreciate how lovely it is to have an array of glowing, moving figures weaving and wafting before your eyes. This was followed by NUTKHUT’S BOLLYWOOD STEPS, the big commission of this year’s Hat Fair. Referencing Bollywood (mostly) but with more than a nod to Hollywood (Grease, Dirty Dancing, Saturday Night Fever et al), this is an exuberant celebration, a great big wonderful ensemble of moving bodies – dancing solo, in group formation, with partners. As in Luminous, the dramaturgy of light is key – the dancing figures are lit by ever-changing washes of beautiful soul-enriching colour: fuchsia and turquoise and amber and lapis lazuli and jade and emerald and ruby and amethyst. It’s exhilarating, joyful, nurturing, life-affirming – a jewel of a piece.
Dorothy Max Prior

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Issue 18-4
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