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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Sci-Fi Weekender XIV

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Sci-Fi Weekender is a massive UK festival celebrating the very best in science-fiction, fantasy and horror, which has seen people travelling from as far as Hawaii and Belgium to attend. Last year’s SFW was held just four months previously and the organisers had promised that SFW-XIV in Great Yarmouth would be bigger and better.

In short; it was.

There was a distinctly Wednesday (Addams) theme to the proceedings, due to the current popularity of the Wednesday series. Victor Dorobantu (Thing) was one of the special guests.  Also attending were Nina Wadia (Fate Mother in The Sandman) and Chase Masterton (Leeta in Star Trek: Deep Space 9).

It was great to see all the guests really getting into the event; Dorobantu gave an impromptu magic act and was always happy to talk about his work (interview coming soon.) Wadia proved to be charmingly mischievous, whilst Masterton was always warm and friendly. Unlike most conventions, SFW offers good accessibility to the guests, who remained happy to chat throughout the weekend.

The event began with the SFW Awards ceremony on the Thursday night, which acted as a preview of the coming weekend, as well as recognising the hard work of the community supporting the event. Professor Elemental compèred the ceremony, with Madam Misfit coming on to entertain the audience.

Following the opening ceremony on Friday morning, there were interviews and panels throughout the weekend. These included talks by Dorobantu, author and researcher Dacre Stoker, and writer Stephen Cox, as well as panels discussing the popularity of horror, the art of Doctor Who and the passion of writing.

The evenings were set aside for a feast of entertainment.  The highlight had to be the Friday evening, with Madam Misfit’s debut on the main stage (following her breakout performance at the last SFW). The queen of chap hop delivered a punk-infused electric swing performance that blended rap with body positivity and inclusivity, and concluded with a conga-line throughout the main void, before a bouncing version of Nellie the Elephant.

This was followed by the cantina band Blues Harvest, fresh from their performance at London’s Mandalorian Forge, playing their blues-tinged tunes. The highlight of their set was when Darth Elvis came on to the stage for an epic performance of his songs, although this was underscored by the poignancy that this would be his final live performance at SFW, before hanging up his cape at Cantina 2. However, as Darth Elvis explained, going out on a high is what he always wanted.

Saturday’s entertainments were kicked off by the cosplay finals, swiftly followed by Jollyboat’s geeky sea-shanties, which were infectiously fun and delivered with a carefree enthusiasm. John Robertson was undoubtedly the highlight of Saturday night, with his live-action videogame The Dark Room . Terrifyingly hilarious, blending together gamer culture with biting inditements on modern life; “Congratulations; you survived three years of the world on Hard Mode…”

Comedians were interspersed throughout the weekend, including Pop-Up Puppet Cinema’s re-enactments of classic sci-fi films and Donna Scott’s wry observations on modern life. George Coppen had the audience in stitches with tales of his gloriously bizarre encounters as a dwarf, which highlighted the absurdity of modern life. His observations were relatable, emphasising the reality that there is no such thing as one-size fits all.

Weaving through all of this were the Area 51 performers, in their fantastic costumes, who added a carnivalesque flair throughout the proceedings and transformed a holiday park into a literal geek camp. This, when combined with the incredible costumes of cosplayers, created a truly magical experience. Meanwhile, Jimcredible’s endlessly entertaining compèring of the main stage throughout the weekend kept everything in line, despite the creative chaos around him.

Each night concluded with a DJ set on the main stage, with Nick Maxwell on Friday and Level Up Leroy on the Saturday. The latter was the grand finale of the weekend, which provided an epic conclusion with pretty much every guest on the stage dancing to Level Up Leroy in an audio-visual onslaught that celebrated the very best in geekdom.

SFW is an event that rewards direct involvement. Passively sitting back is absolutely fine and you will enjoy witnessing the shenanigans, but the atmosphere of shared joy that has been cultivated means that those who interact will get so much more out of the event. Even the holiday park staff involved themselves, with the bar staff in costume and the security team clearly enjoying themselves.

In many ways there is just too much for one person to take in.  Just like any other festival with multiple entertainment streams, from the morning until late at night, things will be missed. It is therefore incumbent upon attendees to plan in advance what they want to see, using the schedules posted online, and to pace themselves.

The on-site accommodation was warm and comfortable, providing the ideal place to rest and decompress and any issues were quickly dealt with by site maintenance. There was even a pool onsite for chilling out in during the day. The only downside was the lack of signposts: it was surprisingly easy to become lost amongst the identical caravans!

The SFW Bible app has recently been released on the Android Play Store and Apple app Store.  This looks set to become a core resource for accessing Sci-Fi Weekender information in the future. It has already proved to be a fantastic tool for checking the schedules each day. There is now a SFW radio too, accessible through the SFW Bible. They have so far played Wasteland by The Mission, Love Like Blood by Killing Joke and Behind Blues Eyes by The Who, which offers insight into their playlist.

If last year’s event was SFW emerging from its lockdown slumber, then SFW-XIV was the roaring furnace of it operating at full blast… and what a weekend it was!

Photos by Peter Gatehouse, used with permission.

Full disclosure: the author was a guest interviewer.

Peter Ray Allison
Peter Ray Allisonhttp://www.peterallison.net
Science Fiction: the final frontier. These are the articles of the freelance journalist Peter Ray Allison. His continuing mission: to explore strange new realms of fiction, to seek out new genres and new visions of the future, to boldly geek where no one has geeked before.

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Sci-Fi Weekender is a massive UK festival celebrating the very best in science-fiction, fantasy and horror, which has seen people travelling from as far as Hawaii and Belgium to attend. Last year’s SFW was held just four months previously and the organisers had promised...Sci-Fi Weekender XIV