Sunday was the last (and best in my opinion) day of the Hat Fair. The Hat Fair is a festival of street performance that takes place in Winchester every year on the first weekend in July. Friday and Saturday there are performances and stalls in Winchester town centre, but on the Sunday the fair heads up to Oram’s Arbour, a big wedge shaped grassy park up the hill from the station.
We arrived at Oram’s Arbour in the drizzly rain at about half twelve – which was when the first act was scheduled for. Nothing was happening, and I was quite worried that the whole thing would be a let down with none of the performers wishing to risk their lives in death defying stunts on sodden, wet, slippery grass. However we’d barely stepped on to the field before the sun came out and by the time we had walked to the ice cream van it was so sunny that there was no excuse but to have an ice cream.
With the sun out the organisers leaped into action setting up pitches, amps and speakers. I had just enough time for another ice cream before the first act started. The first act was Bill Ferguson, who spent quite a while gathering his crowd with a combination of pointed comments at passers-by and hostage taking of gullible people’s possessions. It felt like he had the biggest crowd of all the acts I saw, even though it was still early in the day and there weren’t that many people yet – then again he did have no competition from other pitches. The climax of his act was juggling a pram, a crutch and a fold-up stool, which was pretty impressive.
Next act we saw was Shep Huntley, whose impact was lessened by the fact that we’d seen him last year. The first half of his act was pretty much identical to last time. But last year (as far as I recall) he ended by laying on a bed of nails, this year he climbed up a 3 metre pole and juggled knives and ate an apple at the same time.
Mr. Spin was the third act we watched. He was another who we had seen last year, though last year he was performing with Pandora Pink. Again I think he was better last year – mostly because he let her do all of the talking and patter. He was the most technically skilled performer I saw (I missed out on Haggis and Charlie this year), with a higher trick to patter ratio than the others. But the patter he did have got old very quickly – there’s only a certain amount of times a man can giggle manically and scream out “rock ‘n’ roll” and have it be funny.
Next was a magician – Andrew Elliot. He was really good. Normally I’m a complete old cynic with magic (having read too much on the subject for my own good) but his show had quite a few moments that took me by surprise. I was very busy thinking “Ha! I saw where those oranges came from.” when I got surprised with a “Where on earth did that watermelon come from?!?”.
Last of the day was Famos Bramwells. He was the act I was least blown away by. Granted he had it tough being the last act, he was following a magician who had a lot of good tricks with his act that contained two easily explicable tricks, and I was mainly there to be impressed by jugglers rather than by magicians. But still he was my least favourite act.
For overall performance I’d have to say I liked Bill Ferguson best, and for coolness of skills Mr. Spin.
Another Hat Fair has come and gone, and I can hardly wait until next year. Though one thing’s for sure – next year I’ll have to have a better camera. The three shots at the top were some of the best my little compact could manage. I’m definitely going to have to buy a digital SLR in the near future (or at least drop weighty hints to my loved ones in November/December time).