Eisteddfod 2014: In Review

Armed with the Eisteddfod App and a map of the Maes, it is unlikely you would end up floating round the event not knowing where to go next. In fact, it is quite the opposite; with so much going on at this year’s National Eisteddfod in Llanelli, it was difficult trying to narrow down what to see, what to watch, what to listen to.

It is easiest to start with the Eisteddfod App because many people’s Eisteddfod experience undoubtedly started with this handy little gadget. Downloadable for iPhone, iPad and Android, the App allows you to peruse the abundance of performances, talks, gigs and competitions and then ‘star’ them for your schedule. All you need to do then is enter ‘My Schedule’ to easily access your Eisteddfod bucket list, complete with times and locations. The difficulty is trying to squeeze as much in as possible, sneakily packing away five minutes early in preparation to run to the other side of the Maes for the next event. Without the App, the Eisteddfod must have been a much more stressful experience, but with it, it allows even the least organised people to keep on top of things.

One subject that loomed large at this year’s South-based festival was the First World War. The centenary of the start of the conflict resulted in various talks and commemorations. These ranged from lectures on the fictionalisation of the Great War led by renowned academics, to the more performance based shows such as Myrddin ap Dafydd and Twm Morys’ Rhyfel Hirdydd Haf, a literary show featuring stories, songs and poetry from the War. With the use of hats as some of the only props, the two men included some family history in their performance, providing an extremely relaxed and enjoyable show. Not forgetting the Welsh connection to the War of course, there was also an event simply entitled Hedd Wyn, the nom de plume of Welsh writer Ellis Evans who was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele. Hedd Wyn was posthumously awarded the bard’s chair at the 1917 National Eisteddfod. Combined with the one hundredth anniversary of the War’s outbreak this made the poet especially pertinent at this year’s Eisteddfod.

This year also saw some fantastic pieces of theatre appear at the Eisteddfod. Set up towards the outdoor stage, the drama village featured a cafe (where nothing had a price, they just asked for donations), a studio and a small drama hut. This meant two things could go on at once which did make it difficult to choose what to see. The yearly ‘Scriptslam ‘Steddfod’ hosted by Sherman Cymru took place in the hut. A fantastic way to give new writing a platform, each day saw different scripts being performed with the daily winner having the opportunity to develop their work with the theatre. Theatr Iolo’s Penblwydd Poenus Pete also ensured that the children were well entertained. Written by Gary Owen, the play followed the life of one family and their cat, Cadi, who try to decide a way to celebrate family birthdays. A simple, moralistic tale of what happens when you make selfish decisions for children, the play also had a message for parents too: the repercussions of the overuse of mobile phones. Theatr Iolo’s play has a fantastic cast and is a well balanced production catering equally for children and adults with some obvious double entendres. Even more refreshingly, the father in the production is a Welsh learner and has obvious difficulty understanding some literal translations into Welsh. It is nice to see a production that light-heartedly poked fun at some Welsh language rules.

Theatr Genedlaethol’s hugely successful Dyled Eileen was re-staged in the Stiwdio giving those a chance who missed it on tour to see what all the fuss was about. Winner of the Drama Medal last year Glesni Haf Jones saw her own play debuted at the Eisteddfod this year too. A co-production between Theatre Genedlaethol and Sherman Cymru, the play was priced at a reasonable £5 and also took place at the Stiwdio.

Theatr Oni Bai also premiered their performance of Dan y Wenallt a translation of Dylan Thomas’ famous play for voices Under Milk Wood. Translated into Welsh by T James Jones, amazingly the play did not lose any of its rich lyricism through translation; in fact, in places it might have rivaled the original. With some new faces (or voices), the radio play was broadcast live on BBC Radio Cymru giving those unable to attend the Maes an opportunity to listen and get a true flavour of being in the Stiwdio themselves.

Radio Cymru also broadcasted live from the Maes every day, and live from Maes B at night. The Eisteddfod Twitter activity was constant throughout the week, and it was easy to catch up on some things you might have missed. The online presence certainly gives the Eisteddfod a boost, and combined with television and radio coverage, it was difficult to be completely unaware of some exciting happenings at the Maes in Llanelli.

With an abundance of competitions, there was, as there always is, something to interest everybody. Whether you took a seat in the small ‘Ty Gwerin’ to watch some folk dancing or piled into the iconic pafiliwn pinc to watch some competitions, you would have undoubtedly been entertained. There was also the chance to see art exhibitions as well as listen to poetry and catch some outside music and performances on the stage. Children were well entertained with S4C’s Cyw show being a daily highlight. There was also a chance to learn how to beatbox, get your make up done like a zombie, or if you are a Welsh learner, there were daily activities to ensure that you were able to confidently practice your Welsh. On the same note, the Welsh translation service was useful for some, and all performances that were able to be translated were signposted with a handy logo.

There was an excellent selection of food and drink, from Mexican to Indian, Hog Roast to Veggie, Guinness to Welsh Ale. There was plenty to satisfy the sweet tooth too with hot Welsh cakes and chocolate fountains, crepes and sweet stands.

And that’s only the half of it. It is impossible to mention everything because this year’s Maes was so jam packed. Overall the Eisteddfod this year was a huge success. A fantastic day out for families, there was plenty to entertain people of all ages, from choir competitions and concerts for the perhaps older spectator to the bouncing Maes B to entertain the youngsters. A true gem of a festival, the National Eisteddfod will be situated up North next year, but Llanelli will always remember hosting a really successful and thriving year in 2014.

 original illustration by Dean Lewis