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Our top 5 highlights of 2021!

It’s been an eventful and challenging year here at Play to the Crowd. We’ve decided to pause, reflect, and pick 5 positive highlights from the past 12 months that we, as a charity, are proud to say were down to our amazing team.


1. We filled Winchester with Knitted King Alfs!

Playmakers’ ‘Knitted King Alf’ project initially kicked off back in 2019. Unfortunately, the pandemic struck and many of the plans for the Alfs were put on hold. However, that didn’t stop hundreds of Knitted Alfs turning up in the post at Theatre Royal Winchester from all over the world! During lockdown, so many of you got involved and knitted (and crocheted!) your own Alf, resulting in Alfs of all colours, shapes and sizes!

The project relaunched in 2021, with all the fabulous Knitted Alfs hidden all over Winchester and beyond. Local businesses and independent shops put up an Alf in their window for the public to discover. Not only was the 'Knitted Alf Trail' a great thing for families to do while they shopped, but it also helped the local community get back on its feet after being closed for so long due to the pandemic.

Knitted Alf also appeared at Hat Fair 2021, where festival-goers could adopt and take one home with them. It’s been incredible to see the journey these Alfs have taken!

Keep an eye out in 2022 for another Knitted icon!


2. The big screen returned to Theatre Royal Winchester!

Over the summer some of our team were busy installing live streaming equipment and a cinema screen into our auditorium. This has now made it possible for us to not only host live performances, but also to screen films and live-streamed productions from theatres from around the country and beyond.

The installation was made possible thanks to the Garfield Weston Foundation, which in January awarded Play to the Crowd £205,865, enabling us to improve and extend our offer, accessibility and audience experience. In addition to the streaming equipment, the grant has also enabled us to add an accessible toilet into the theatre foyer. 

In the near future, we will be making improvements to our external windows and Tower Street entrance, connecting the indoors with the outdoors, in the spirit of Hat Fair!


cinema screen in theatre auditorium

3. Hat Fair came back with a bang!

Hat Fair returned to Winchester in July with huge success, entertaining audiences of all ages with circus, dance, magic, music, comedy, and more.

Hat Fair has been running for 47 years (apart from 2020 when it was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic); and as a result of government regulations put in place during the pandemic - including the need for social distancing – for the first time, the festival was ticketed to control audience numbers and held only at North Walls Recreation Ground for the three days of the festival. Hat Fair is famous for being free to attend and exploding on to, and taking over, the city streets and green spaces of Winchester for two of the three days. However, despite new challenges, the event went on without a hitch and even mild showers could not dampen spirits - with audiences desperate to enjoy themselves after over a year at home.


4. A refreshed Playmakers’ Youth Theatre launched!

2021 saw a refresh of Playmakers’ Youth Theatre. The offer expanded to even more young people, with sessions open to anyone in school years 4-13, as well as those aged 19-25.

An additional performance group for those in school years 8-13 was added, along with a brand new Young Company group, for those aged 16-25. 

As well as performance, members have also had the chance to gain skills in other areas of theatre-making, including writing and design. Some members of the Youth Theatre even had the chance to exhibit their outdoor performance skills at Hat Fair 2021.

Join Playmakers Youth Theatre today!


5. Panto Aladdin begins with high praise from audiences and critics alike!

Though this particular highlight is happening right now as we type this, we couldn’t leave it off our list!

At last, we’re delighted to finally be able to present to you, Aladdin, albeit a year later than planned!

Aladdin was originally meant to be our 2020/21 panto, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were unable to produce such a show. We did instead have our wonderful Christmas offering, Four Dames in Search of Panto, which brought joy to Winchester audiences in challenging times, as well as providing work for our regular core panto team.

Now, a year later, our traditional family panto is back with a bang. Aladdin opened with preview performances on Saturday 4 December and is already a hit with audiences and critics alike.

One audience member said “This was the best panto we’ve seen since we’ve been coming for the last 7 years!  The cast and crew pulled out all the stops. We loved it.”

Winchester Today called it “funny, colourful, and uplifting” and proclaimed it a “triumph”

Next year’s Christmas panto, The Wizard of Oz, will be on sale soon! 


Aladdin cast

Our list may be complete, but we couldn’t round off the year without mentioning the special visit we received from acting royalty. Dame Judi Dench returned to Theatre Royal Winchester back in October for an evening of conversation with a sold-out auditorium.

Judi spoke of the highlights of her career, both on stage and screen, and life during lockdown. Judi said: “It's lovely to be back, especially in this theatre, it's a beautiful theatre here in Winchester”.

Judi Dench