Welsh wonder: Machynlleth Comedy Festival
Tim Clark23 April 2010
There is something stirring in the Welsh hills. A town which was once home to a prince and a parliament is set to take centre stage once again as it hosts a weekend-long artistic invasion.
The historic town of Machynlleth in mid-Wales, which was once home to the first Welsh Parliament under Owain Glyndŵr, is set to play host to some of the biggest names currently touring the UK comedy circuit this weekend for the inaugural Machynlleth Comedy Festival.
Described by some as ‘the new Hay’ and others as an alternative to the Edinburgh Fringe, though new, the Machynlleth festival hopes to follow in Hay's literary footsteps to become a home for live comedy in the country.
Over 30 acts, including Robin Ince, Jon Richardson, Pappy’s Fun Club and Isy Suttie are set to perform over the festival weekend while Rhod Gilbert also planning taking time out from recording his DVD in London to take the train up to the festival on the Sunday.
Small towns in mid Wales are rarely the places you expect to uncover comedy gold, but for independent promoter Henry Widdicombe, who came up with the idea for Machynlleth while organising the comedy stages for other small festivals such as Green Man, the town, near Aberystwyth, could become a new epicentre for comedy.
“We took the inspiration to start Machynlleth because Wales didn’t really have anything like this going, yet it has some excellent small market towns which lend themselves perfectly to these kinds of events.
Although comparisons have been drawn with Edinburgh already according to Widdicombe, the appeal of Machynlleth is its ability to offer something different. “In many cities you barely know a festival is happening, but if you take something small you can have a big impact.
“Edinburgh is wonderful for what it is but what we are trying to do is the exact opposite. We want to put on the kind of festival which is ok with being small rather than trying to become a comedy behemoth. “We are small, quirky and select, but not exclusive,” Widdicombe says.
Boutique festivals have grown in popularity in recent years, with a plethora of spoken word, science, fringe, theatre or comedy gatherings springing up across the UK. But what is it about the Welsh countryside which attracts people to come from across the country to perform?
According to Robin Ince, who is appearing at Machynlleth twice over the weekend, the appeal is in the nature of festivals themselves: “Festivals are a place where people are able to share a common ground, a place for people to expand ideas.
“At Hay I am performing at the Philosophy festival, at Machynlleth I am hoping to try out some new ways of presenting my material.” Ince adds. “The experimentation and unpredictable nature of festivals is what makes these kinds of performances exciting.”
“There is a looseness that you don’t have anywhere else than the summertime fields of the United Kingdom.”
Machynlleth isn’t only offering comedy, during the weekend visitors will be entertained by a number of street performers as well as being able to take part in a range of events including Scrabble Sunday – where people can partake in a large-scale competition of the traditional board game, complete with its own referee.
Machynlleth is funded in part by a grant from Glasu, a fund run by Powys council which aims to provide funds for festivals and events which enhance and benefit the local community, and
“The funding I received has been key to the festival,” Widdicombe says. “It has given me an opportunity to put a marker down and I wouldn’t have been able to put the festival on without it.”
“A lot of people have been really positive, and we had to hold a few meetings to introduce ourselves to the town and answer questions. A lot of feedback has been that this is what the town has needed.”
Looking beyond 2010, the festival organisers are keen to improve more next year by finding a sponsor, developing the line-up and grow the festival.
“There has been a lot of enthusiasm for comedy in Wales” Widdicombe adds. “It’s good for Wales, good for the welsh comedy scene, and reap the benefits in the longer term”
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