With over 1,100 individual events and activities over an eight-day period, the National Eisteddfod is definitely the place to be during the first week of August. This year’s festival rolls into Cardiff Bay next week, and looks and feels different to usual, with a clever mix of the Bay’s permanent buildings and attractive temporary structures.
Last held in Cardiff in 2008, this year’s Eisteddfod is very different. Hidden away in leafy suburbia a decade ago, this year’s festival is a confident and bustling event, with the Bay as its stunning backdrop. And it’s not just the location that’s changed.
The past ten years have been a time of change for the festival which celebrates the Welsh language and the culture of Wales. It seems to have evolved and developed over the years, changing from being a cluster of buildings dotted around the main pavilion, into a collection of villages, each championing its own genre of culture and the arts, and each as eclectic and welcoming as the next.
Billed as the urban and experimental Eisteddfod, some were sceptical at the decision to visit Cardiff Bay and combine the use of permanent buildings with tents and tepees. But the result is stunning, with the friendly informality of the Maes clear to see, and the clever use of permanent venues and stages providing staging opportunities not usually available to the organisers.
This year’s event has an exciting and bold artistic programme, showcasing the language and culture in an inclusive way, with the aspiration to attract a new and diverse audience at the heart of the project. This is a ‘fence free festival’, an Eisteddfod where people can dip in and out of the event, and have a taste of a vast array of cultural genres, from literature and music to visual arts, science and technology and street theatre.
Welsh culture is on the crest of a wave, and there’s nowhere better than the Eisteddfod to experience how our small country manages to bat way above its weight in so many ways.
One example is the impressive Pentref Drama, a packed programme of events and activities, ranging from the premiere of last year’s Drama Medal winning play, Heiddwen Tomos’ Milwr yn y Meddwl, co-produced by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, and Theatr y Sherman with the Eisteddfod, to Anweledig, Ffion Dafis’ stunning portrayal of Glenda facing her demons in Aled Jones Williams’ one-woman show.
The drama programme has benefitted greatly from the decision to bring the festival to an urban setting, with the Bay and its buildings providing a blank artistic canvas. The Wales Millennium Centre provides the perfect setting for much of the ‘formal’ theatre, but venues like the cellar in Portland House on Bute Street, Chapter, Café Sia in Craft in the Bay and even the Senedd steps have given the organisers, many of them local volunteers, the opportunity to experiment, challenge and create an impressive schedule aimed at a wide range of ages and interests.
One of the Eisteddfod’s hidden gems is the Societies Pavilion. Any society or organisation involved in Welsh life and culture can book a slot during the week, and result is a higgledy piggledy programme of events. Some of them are very niche and appeal to a specific audience, but others set the cultural agenda for the coming months. These are discussions, conversations and observations which shouldn’t be missed. Have a look online for the programme, and head over to the Senedd to see what’s going on.
The Eisteddfod is a celebration of the Welsh language, using arts and culture to make the language relevant and appealing to the widest demographic possible.
Y Lle Celf, the visual arts open exhibition is always a ‘must-see’ part of the Maes, whether you speak Welsh or not. And no more so than this year when the exhibition is housed in the Senedd building. The result is stunning, with clever use of space and a gloriously eclectic exhibition, where new artists’ work hangs side by side with some of the biggest names in the Welsh scene.
Music is an integral part of the Eisteddfod. Maes B, the rock and pop fringe festival, billed as the Eisteddfod’s little night-time brother or sister has long been the highlight of summer for young people. But over the past few years, organisers have worked hard to widen the appeal of both Maes B and Welsh language music in general, and the result is the success story that is the open air stage on the Maes.
The large stage is located in Roald Dahl Plass and the schedule runs from 12:00 until late every day, with 90s party band making a much-hyped comeback on Friday night, and the darlings of the Welsh language scene, Candelas, fresh from the success of their latest band, close the Eisteddfod on Saturday night.
Entry is free throughout the week and the aim is to promote Welsh music to the widest audience possible in Cardiff and making the language and culture attractive and accessible and relevant to everyone.
But it’s not all rock and pop, and the beautiful Norwegian Church will host a brand new programme, which until now has been missing from the artistic programme, celebrating composers and music from Wales. #Encore is an attractive mix of music, chat and recitals, in a relaxed and beautiful surrounding, with the hope of making it a permanent fixture on the Maes.
NOT TO MISS:
Carnifal y Môr
Carnifal y Môris part of the Year of the Sea celebrations, and is an ambitious project combining music with all kinds of visual arts elements and a colourful carnival procession through Cardiff Bay late on Saturday evening 4 August. Working with Butetown Carnival, artist Megan Broadmeadow has created a film which will be projected on to huge water screens in front of the Senedd building, with music by musician and film-maker, Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals). A spectacular celebration of how the sea has created the multicultural Cardiff of today. Catch it at 22:30, 4 August; free of charge.
Expect the unexpected as Wales’ newest supergroup, Pendevig, explode on to the Eisteddfod Pavilion stage on Thursday 9 August at 20:00. Join the huge party celebrating the resurgence happening in the Welsh folk scene, turning traditional Welsh music on its head with jazz, funk, drum’n’bass, rap, rock and pop influences. Tickets available from www.eisteddfod.cymru/ 0845 4090 800.