11th August 2000 at 01:00
Today is the climactic day of the Royal National Eisteddfod when a poet is "chaired" and welcomed, clad in ceremonial robes, into the Gorsedd, the official bardic circle. The word eisteddfod, now taken up in non-Welsh nations, such as South Africa, to mean an arts festival, originally referred to the fact that a successful poet won the honour of a place at the lord's table - eistedd means to sit. There's not much time to sit down in a week of concerts and competitions, the majority of them for young people, when the Eisteddfod takes over a town and its surroundings for a week. This year the maes or field and its attendant stalls and pavilions is near the town of Llanelli on the south coast in an area which is rediscovering its pre-industrial natural beauty.

This is not a predominantly Welsh-speaking area, but very little English is heard for the whole week on the Eisteddfod field. People outside Wales can have little idea of the frenzied excitement that poetry causes. The winners of the Crown (for free verse) and the Chair (for strict metre poetry) are feted, but there are always hundreds of non-bardic visitors queueing for the tent where poets wittily compete ad lib within the ferociously difficult rules of Welsh verse.

This year, Sunday evening's appearance of Bryn Terfel, the Welsh-speaking bass baritone with a personality bigger than Verdi's Falstaff, may be difficult to match for excitement.

Information: 02920 763777.

The Abbey Park Festival will be setting Leicester abuzz tomorrow on its 20th anniversary. In the children's tent, 3,000 visitors are expected to attend events including a Haymarket Theatre programme, readings for primary children by Rose Impey and Chris D'Lacey and, for teenagers, by Caroline Pitcher reading from Silkscreen. Information: There must be some parents with young children who are not at an arts festival or pursuing some other worthwhile activity in a gallery or museum. For sheer fun, they might visit the cinema and see The Road to El Dorado (U, general release) an animation with - hold the front page - a witty and literate script. Cautious Tulio and impetuous Miguel (voices by Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh) are a double act who would do well on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A pair of wise-cracking tearaway Spaniards (who sound English and American), they beat stout Cortes, who is drawn with a chin like an anvil, to the magical gold-laden land of El Dorado in 1519. When they arrive, helped by Chel (Rosie Perez) a young woman who is equally quick-thinking and adventurous, they are not in the least surprised to find that everyone speaks English. But let that pass. No one would claim that this appealing film is an examination of Aztec culture. But it is strong on the observation of human nature.

When our heroes enter the dream-like country beyond the waterfall and the apparently impenetrable rock, they stuble on trouble in Paradise. They are greeted as gods by the roly-poly chief (Edward James Olmos) and the wily high priest (Armand Assante) but they soon become pawns in a power game while trying to escape with as much gold as possible. The screenplay includes anachronistic jokes, along the lines of Shakespeare in Love, but its fizz comes from the way Branagh and Kline play off each other. The songs, by the Lion King team, Elton John and Tim Rice, may be a selling-point for some, especially the singable "The Trail we Blaze", but it is when the vocals begin that a little sentimentality creeps into an otherwise robustly funny children's film which does not insult adult intelligence.

At the Barbican Centre, fans of the Star Wars films can meet Ian McCaig, a conceptual artist who helped to design characters and costumes for The Phantom Menace, including Queen Amidala and Darth Maul. He will be leading drawing workshops for children aged five and over. Each lasting an hour and a half, these will take place three times a day between August 18 and 21. The associated Art of Star Wars exhibition will continue until September 3 and, every weekend until then, young visitors can transform themselves with the help of face painters into their favourite Star Wars characters. Information: 020 7638 8891.

Families with children of any age can take part in free workshops for two weeks from next Monday at the British Library. Learn calligraphy or how to make a book or how a printing press works. The Library is also offering a themed Shakespeare day on August 20. Information: 020 7412 7332.

And, if at the end of all this activity in London those children are still eager for excitement, they may enjoy an evening with adult family members at a musical. Les Miserables, Cats, The King and I and Blood Brothers are on the Mousetrap Foundation's Family First Night list next week. For information about special prices until August 18, some as low as pound;5: 020 7836 4388.

Down in Blandford Forum in Dorset on August 18 they will be celebrating something much more basic: water. Common Ground, the company that uses imagination to combine the arts and environmental awareness, has initiated the Water Market, a street market selling organic vegetables, fish and ice-cream, where you can also learn to mend a tap, taste beer and spring water or canoe on the River Stour. The day will end with Pipeworks, a concert of music for bog horn, immersion beater, ballcock maracas and other instruments made of plumbing. Common Ground's composer in residence, Karen Wimhurst, has developed pieces which cross from jazz to "serious" with a quartet of teenage saxophonists from Young Blood and the more unusual Pipeworks musicians in mind. Among these is a young stand-in percussionist, Emily Morris, for whom this will be a day to remember. Common Ground: 01747 850 820.

Next week: news from the Edinburgh Festival.

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