How the Hay Literature Festival 2015 Ruined Hay-On-Wye for Me

I love the town of Hay-on-Wye where they have a large number of bookshops containing books on every subject you could imagine and often many you hadn’t even realised existed. Every visit to a shop is a new learning experience and in the tranquil setting you will find respite from the all too busy world. Every year I go to the Hay-On-Wye Literature Festival. I may not from now on. The world has found this oasis and seeks to drink it dry of its charm in the passage of a week.

I used to be a much smaller event with talks by a few people but always you were drawn to going into the town filled with its labyrinthine shops filled from floor to ceiling with eclectic collections of books ranging on any and every subject you could imagine if only you were willing to take the time to look through the stacks thoroughly. But my experience this year has cast a shadow over this place. To a bibliophile this town would sound like some unknowable heaven on earth but… celebrity and faux, waxing lyrical, philosophical rhetoric are the order of the day.

DSC_0026bbbbbbbbbbb

Such immense crowds. Crowds the level of which, if we were talking of battery farmed live stock, would be unacceptable. I disdain it. Stephen Fry walked past me with an assistant guiding him like a sheep dog. I remember five years ago when he pranced around like a majestic stag free of restrained but not anymore. People gawp and coo. He and Jude Law, along with a few others, were reading letters of emotion and wit. This is a recurring event now apparently though it always feels like a easy to do schedule filler rather than something to be made prominent at the event. Sandi Toksvig walks quickly onto the stage to read her assigned letters but doesn’t remain for the applause afterwards as the others did. Far too busy now. This year I note they recieve roses made of paper when they were given long stem white roses in previous years. I see one of these tokens left discraded on the floor of the event bookshop later on. A sign of the times. The pace of the entire festival used to be leisurely and flowing but now it is all timed and erratic. No longer are you absorbing the occassion but rushing to the next fix of stimulation. This letter reading started fifteen minutes late, not accounting the time to get people into their seats, and so many people had to leave early to get to their next event on time. There is no real apology made except to acknowledge they will have a slight reordering of the readings.

DSC_0029bbbbbbbbbb

Too many people. The book shops seem to be charging more now. The main event book shop charges far too much yet you can hardly approach the shelves to see the books of the Event’s writers selling their wares.

I go to listen to a BBC Radio Wales programme being aired live. As I enter a steward repeatedly stabs at my shoulder with her talon like a bird of prey stripping flesh from bone. I turn around and she excuses herself. Did she think I was someone she knew? Was I trespassing following the other four people who were with me? I will never know. People don’t explain themselves when the authority of a neon yellow reflective tabard gives them the illusion of authority. I sit in the audience and Violet Skies sings a few songs in front of us. Later the presenter and his hench-persons declare there is going to be food next and won’t that be nice for us the audience? A single plate tours around the front row of the audience, who are people clearly associated with the BBC radio staff, but no one else gets a sniff of the veal sticks they are eating. It goes without saying that watching them eat was a highlight. (Violet Skies actually was and deserves support).

I saw some interesting books. Do you remember the books in school that were hardback B5 sized copies used year after year to teach set texts, usually something by William Shakespeare? Well there was one of modernism and the occult…. oh how I wanted it but the ticket price was £55! I thought it was a mistake and checked the other copies, but no, that really was its price for a measly 175 or so pages. I should add this was a newly published book in the main event bookshop yet somehow was £55. It made no sense. Also, at the exit, there was a stall manned by two Americans. They were trying to sell subscriptions to the international edition of the New York Times. The girl was the definition of a pixie hair cut with buzz cut side panels, thick black framed glasses, hipster stereotype and the guy a mass market John Hamm with casual wear perma-stubble ken doll. I saw a woman in the event bookshop buying lots of those ‘a simple guide to…’ type books en-masse. She wanted a working knowledge to discuss the topic but not enough to actually have any real knowledge of it. Posers everywhere. Rhetoric will be the stain of this age of humanity…. just as Socrates and Plato feared all that time ago in ancient Greece. Why know about a topic when you can just act as though you do. All the respect without the blood, sweat and tears of academic endeavour whether formal or informal. If given the test by Socrates of whether they desired knowledge as much as air many people here would fail.

So I didn’t enjoy. Apart from the ‘reading of letters’ event there was a talk about the Ukraine crisis with Russian journalists. It was sold out. I wonder how many attending actually had a long-term interest in the region, how many were just attending as it is a current event and how many just wanted sound bites to use of a dinner party should the topic ever arise. Faux-intelligentsia: a coffee in one hand, iPhone in their blazer pocket and a hemp bag in the other filled with the event freebies.


I finally made it to the town and heard an upbeat instrumental of Katyusha playing in a tent… I walked over and they got to the chorus and LA LA LA LA LAL AL ALALALALLALALALALLAA. They didn’t know the lyrics? Why LALALALALLALALALALALALLA? What was for a moment a glimpse of hope was dashed. On tables outside the tent people sell overpriced random rusty tat in hopes the hipsters will think it artistic and retro-chic. I remember a previous year when a drunk German sat in the nearby pub and espoused how we, here, are a stupid, inferior, mongrel race made up of the entrails of every invader’s unwanted spoils of war left behind to rot. The pub in question we went to for a drink. The barmaid said it was cheaper to buy the bottle than two glasses of wine so this advice was accepted. A round of drinks consisting of two cokes and the bottle turned out to be £19.50. For those who do not live in Britain the average round of these drinks would be about £7.50 up to £15 depending on the venue. Was this a one-off ‘event premium’ pricng stategy? I do not know but we go to the beer garden and already these sweet drinks are bitter to the taste buds. Somehow I look back and am less offended by that bigoted German than what I have seen today.

DSC_0061bbbbbbbbb

One shop had an interesting, eclectic, interior. All the bookshops contain novelty but this one actually had chairs to sit in as you read. It is my favourite shop and I always buy from it… except on this visit as I was so demoralised by my experiences of the festival site. It stands across the road from the pulp fiction, crime and murder mystery specialist ‘Murder and Mayhem’ bookshop (with chalk outline drawn on the road outside it). Books pouring out of every crevice and on all topics. Books which you did not know existed and yet entrance you immediately. The prices here were fair unlike elsewhere. I do not give its name because you should discover this town for yourself and enjoy the experience of discovering its hidden wonders firsthand.

DSC_0078bbbbbbbbbbbb

However, to avoid you thinking I was going to end on a positive note, let me warn you of one shop not to purchase from. Booths, the self-declared ‘biggest second-hand bookshop in the world’, will overcharge and belittle you for daring to ask for anything not immediately apparent. The claim is of course a lie, a little boast allowed under law, to entertain the notion of encouraging your custom. This year it was closed at 5pm….. The arrogance of a second hand bookshop to do such a thing on a festival day as if to suggest they do not need customers and you should be grateful they allow you to enter. I hate that place. Once I had seen a book there and remembered the cover so asked the shop assistant to look up ‘Isobel’ a novel about a Scottish witch and let me see the google image results. Repeatedly he kept asking for the author’s name. Of course I did not know this otherwise I could have easily found it on the racks in the basement hence why I now was asking for his assistance. No he insisted he needed the name. He looks on Wikipedia for a moment but to no avail. We are still stood looking at the screen. I again ask him to look on google images. He relents after 10 minutes and the third image on the search? The cover of the book I was looking for with the author’s name! So he finally uses this name on the database and tells me they do not have it but can order it from them (for a premium). I decline and make my escape. They overcharge here for things that are not even rare. Architecturally the interior is stylish yet modern and the café is nice but I do not support this shop since this experiment in getting blood from a stone.

DSC_0067bbbbbbbbb

During the festival the town is filled with hipsters. Hipsters of all ages, shapes and sizes. I felt dirty. This was not the celebration of literature, wit and knowledge but a cold exercise in placating the sycophantic, self-congratulating middle class ego with a sizeable disposable income.

The rest of the year this town is an oasis for the literate bibliophile seeking adventure and willing to spend an entire day trawling shelf upon shelf of unexpected books on topics that you would think too niche to be contemplated for publishing.

The festival is just there for star chasers, the bourgeois and people who need to be doing something to justify their elitist attitude the rest of the year. I doubt any of the books bought by the event speakers get read and just gather dust on the shelves waiting for the time they will grace the shelves, en-masse , of one of the numerous bookshops here at a far reduced price. I like this town but it is like a beach side town during the summer holidays during this festival.

https://www.hayfestival.com/wales/index.aspx?skinid=2&currencysetting=GBP&localesetting=en-GB&resetfilters=true


Other people poison your life. Yet humans are a social creature. But we build large caves in which to hoard our belongings. The selfish gene has gone grown stronger with the passing of generations and soon it will be a cancer leading to our downfall as a species if we cannot overcome it.

Advertisements

The Harri-Parris: The Big Day

A Welsh farmer’s daughter brings her English fiancé back to meet her rural West Wales community and family leading to a number of misunderstandings and hilarity ensuing the day before their wedding.

The Harri-Parris are a West Walian farming family. Hilarious and dysfunctional, they love nothing more than having visitors round. And that’s you! Anni, the farm’s only daughter, is getting married and so the Harri-Parris want to celebrate the big day with you. Well, not the actual big day, they’re not made of money. How about the night before? The night they’re going to meet Anni’s new English, vegetarian, indie musician fiancé for the first time. What could possibly for [sic] wrong? Dust off your posh hats and join the Harri-Parris for a thoroughly entertaining evening of songs, stories and cake. Lots of cake.

Mai oh Mai productions and Little Wander in partnership with Chapter and the Torch Theatre presents: The Harri-Parris: The Big Day

Script and songs by Llinos Mai
Directed by Owen Lewis

CBHIycJUMAADFy5

Cast:

Llinos Mai – Anni: The only daughter of the Harri-Parri family. Actor, writer, director and farmer’s daughter. Wrote this play and the first outing of the Harri-Parris entitled The Harri-Parris: The Leaving Do.

Rhian Morgan – Mrs Harri-Parri: Widowed, overbearing, matriarch of the family and proud member of the ‘Not the Welsh W.I.’ (Played Anne Jenkins in Tir, Susan in Stella and Sian Blathwaite in August, Anthony Hopkin’s adaption of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya back in 1996 which I saw when I was very little in the New Theatre, Cardiff).

Dan Rochford – Ifan: Anni’s terse brother who runs the farm day to day. (He played the role of Dean in Hinterland / Y Gwyll for two episodes). [My personal favourite character of the show but each one has their qualities contributing the the ensemble piece].

Rhys Ap Trefor – Deiniol: The camp cousin to the Harri-Parri siblings acting as the wedding planner (Huw in the Torchwood episode ‘Countrycide’) [The role was played by Rhydian Jones in The Leaving Do and he features in the promotional video for The Big Day though for whatever reason has been replaced and it may only have been temporarily as far as I am aware though Ap Trefor does an excellent job so you would never think he was replacing someone else in the role].

Oliver Wood – Ben: Anni’s English fiancé (Who you may recognise as Charlie Jenkins from Boyd Clack’s comedy series High Hopes).

For those expecting to see Gareth Wyn Griffiths who played Branek, a Slovakian seasonal farm worker in ‘The Leaving Do’, he does not return to reprise his role but that is understandable as the character was a seasonal worker who would have moved on and perhaps, as a foil to the previous play’s events, would not have added anything to the proceedings of this play and was replaced in the four person ensemble with the character of Mrs Harri-Parri.

The light hearted narrative is a simple to follow one of a farm daughter bringing her finance to her home for the first time and the dissonance which arises from the perceptions everyone has based on the lies Anni has told and the realities when they finally meet. The Harri-Parris meet him in traditional national dress with a song, playing an accordion, before laying out a lavish buffet, “Go on have a bit… have a bit more… bit more? Go on!”, but Anni and Ben have already eaten at the service station before arriving (and everyone in the community knows they have as Mrs Harri-Parri relates who spotted them where and when… There and no secrets in the close knit community of Llanlai). Anni has told her family that her fiancé, Ben, is a sky diving, charity working, man-amongst-men when in reality he is a vegetarian indie musician. This of course riles the farming, animal slaughtering, family who soon drive him to fainting during a musical number where they place him on the table and ritualistically gut him as if he were a chicken. Other issues include Ifan slaughters a pig in the downstairs toilet ruining Anni’s wedding dress, Ben’s mother had made a wedding cake that, safe to say, is not to Mrs Harri-Parri’s expectations and inevitably there is a fall out.

The Harri Parris The Big Day

The stage layout is very tight perhaps due to Chapter’s small stage area but there is no sense it is overly compacted but rather lends itself to a realistic dimension for the kitchen area of a farmhouse. To the rear on either side are doors: on the left it leads out into the farm’s courtyard and on the right further into the house. On the rear wall are the rosettes the family have won at farming contests, probably the Royal Welsh Show, while a drum kit, electric guitar and bass sit beneath them.

On the left is the cooking stove filled with a turkey and all the food. In front of this is the telephone say on a small podium which Mrs Harii-Parri goes to throughout the play to gossip, in Welsh (although its Pobl-Y-Cwm Welsh so there is nothing lost as you will easily pick up what she is saying even if you’ve no knowledge of the Welsh language as its about what has just occurred on stage). Just off centre of the stage is the kitchen table and a few chairs.

On the right is the Welsh dresser sideboard (display cabinet for anyone not familiar with this piece of furniture) in which the ruined wedding dress is hidden unsuccessfully, a piano used during most musical pieces and the chair in which Ifan often sits reading a tractor magazine when not involved in immediate events.

B-ikDhnIIAALrIw.jpg large

There is a little bit of audience interaction once or twice during the performance early on in terms of the cast pretending people are members of the local community. The pretence is that we, the audience, have been invited en masse to come celebrate the event and are all members of the local Llanlai community. As long as you are not in the front two or so rows there is nothing to be concerned about if you do not like this sort of thing. Most of the humour here is of the ‘no you didn’t invite that person did you!’ variety with some being the gossipy women of the community who Mrs Harri-Parri doesn’t like, Anni’s past boyfriends (some whom Ifan invited as they are his friends though he clearly gets some mocking pleasure from inviting them) and one lady who gets the pleasure of being Ifan’s girl that he is seeing (and will proceed to gesture at during one or two moments later). During this point the house lights will be up but they are few and far between and a natural continuation of the previous Leaving Do play where they actually handed chocolate cake out apparently (they do not hand out cake during The Big Day) but it helps the ‘world building’ of the setting. Of course it may be that the people selected were ones the production knew I cannot hazard a guess. Personally I don’t like audience interaction but as it was restrained to the front few rows it was fine and something to be expected if you chose to sit there.

Before going in you are handed a Llanlai newsletter which aids in the world building and serves as a one page list of the people involved in the production in one column. It’s free so that was a nice, unexpected, bonus of Welsh humour to get you in the mood.

DSC_0008ttttttttttttttttt

The approximately 90 minute performance, with no interval, has a few bits of dialogue in Welsh but these are for the most part supplemental and all the key dialogue is done in English with a few Wenglish-isms. As mentioned Mrs Harri-Parri speaks on the phone in Welsh but these are easily followed and concern the immediately preceding events of the play.

There are musical sequences involving agriculturally lyrical R&B, indie guitar anthems, wistful balladry, rap and even one song involving Bollywood styled bhangra choreography.

The seating in Chapter was ‘first come first served’ with no seating allocation so if you go to anything there best make sure your are on the door early ready to go in and get your choice of seat. The stage is less than a metre in front of the front row so preferably gets seats about 3 rows back if you want to have seats similar to the front rows of other, more traditional, theatre venues. I didn’t notice any issue with leg room unlike other venues and only now, when writing this, realise it wasn’t an issue unlike other locations I have been. I have to assume the misspelling in the promotional blurb (highlighted in blod above) was intentional…

The play is quite straightforward in its humour and music but it is one of the first ones Llinos Mai has written and I think given time she will develop a more distinct voice and can be considered to be testing the waters as this play is more theatrical compared to the more musical based The Leaving Do. Certainly the BBC is willing to invest in her as soon there will be 3 episodes of The Harri-Parris Radio Show on BBC Radio Wales soon. In a comparison Boyd Clack started in a very similar vein with Satellite City which began as a radio show on BBC Radio Wales so if all goes well this may be the start of some big things and Llinos Mai becoming a big name in Welsh comedy!

It was a very enjoyable evening and Chapter is a good venue for new, inventive, shows. The big question is would I go see this again? Yes without question but more importantly it makes me want to see more from not just Llinos Mai but also everyone else involved in the production and I can think of no greater compliment to pay them than that. I am really looking forward to hearing more from the Harri-Parris on BBC Radio Wales and will be keeping an eye out for the nativity based third entry in the series when it comes around.

http://www.theharriparris.co.uk/

DSC_0004ttttttttttttttttttt


A delay to the promised A View From The Bridge as the last performance of The Big Day is tonight and from the sounds of it has been sold out every night which is good to hear!

I wonder if there is a recording of The Leaving Do somewhere online. I tend to see things being recorded but never know where these recordings go afterwards. To some archives somewhere but it seems a shame to do that in this day and age even if you had to charge a small fee to view the recording.