It’s safe to say that the SciFi Weekender isn’t like other UK conventions. Residential events like this are pretty rare in the UK and SFW5 (as it’s known to those too lazy to say the whole name) took place this year at Hafan y Mor Holiday Park in North Wales. This meant that we got to freak out with our geek out in the comfort of a chalet and with access to onsite facilities that included minigolf, go-karts, a swimming pool and a beach.
These distractions were not the reason why a small legion of genre junkies descended on the site however. The place was filled with a great many interesting things for people to get fascinated by. In addition to a cabaret in the central plaza that included a creepy ringmaster, an incredibly flexible young lady, monkey men and a “genuine” Victorian strong man, there were enough panels and talks to keep you busy all day. Skilled mimic and occasional alien Lewis Macleod was especially interesting and was able to provide a brilliant Brian Blessed impersonation for those who felt that the event didn’t have enough shouting and swearing. Other top guests included the dry and witty Rene Auberjonois (Odo from Star Trek: DS9) and Hobbit star Graham McTavish, all of whom acquitted themselves very well indeed.
Yet again, novelist Robert Rankin filled in as master of ceremonies for many of the lighter acts and as a compere of sorts. He was especially good as a game show host for geeky versions of Just a Minute and Pointless. Rankin is as witty in person as he is on the page and he used his sense of silliness throughout the weekend, filling in the gaps during certain shows with grace and wit.
Highlights included the science humour-inspired turn Festival of the Spoken Nerd, the deadpan yet dark Zombie Worst Case Scenario safety lecture and music from the likes of the incredibly clever Darth Elvis and the Imperials and a nice set from Weekender regular Professor Elemental. As you may have gathered by now, this was not a weekend of chin stroking and quiet contemplation; rather it was all about laughing, dancing and making merry.
Not every show worked; the intimate and earnest Suspended in Space caused a stir in 2013’s Greater Manchester Fringe Festival because it used a very small performance space to maximum effect. Having seen the play before, we understood why the organisers had brought this love letter to sci-fi conventions to SFW5. Sadly the huge performance space coupled with an audience who were waiting for the Cosplay Parade to start meant that it didn’t get the sort of attention it really deserved; SFW5 not being quite the event that Suspended in Space is trying to echo. The Cosplay Parade that followed afterwards was superbly handled and it was very nice indeed to see that a Night Lord Chaos Space Marine costume won the day.
The central appeal of the event continues to be its party atmosphere. People don’t attend the SciFi Weekender solely for the guests or the comedy turns. They go for the very pleasant company and an excuse to let it all hang out because one of the things the Weekender has been able to do time and again is rock. The fun on the Friday night was only a warm up to the huge nerd dance off that was Pat Sharp’s set on the Saturday. Sharp even obliged with a remixed version of the theme from Fun House, the kid’s TV show that made him famous.
SciFi Weekender 2014 was the party event that the regulars were expecting; a heady mix of geeky fun during the day and lots of jumping up and down in the evening. Though there are better events for autograph-hunting, merchandise-finding and networking out there, the SciFi Weekender 2014 is the only event that focuses on the simple joys of hanging out and having fun. It is solid proof that geeks really do know how to party and we can’t wait to go again next year.
Pictures: Anne Davies