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Art beat

Terry Deary is wary of being too much appreciated by teachers. "It's my job to upset people," he says, and is horrified when the word "didactic" is attached to his work. The popular author - popular with children, anyway - of the Horrible Histories books has written a play, Horrible History: the mad millennium.

The history of 1,000 years speeds by, from the Norman conquest, via the black death, the bullying Tudors (with details of the three strokes it took to remove the head of Mary, Queen of Scots) and miserable Victoria to the First World War. No monarch is overlooked and there are short-hand ways of remembering the pyramid shape of feudalism and the symptoms of plague - "swell, spit, smell, swish", the last sound being the scythe weilded by Death. Groan-worthy jokes, terrible puns, audience participation and a sinister drama teacher help the class of "pupils" tell the story in terms intended to delight nine to 13-year-olds.

Deary was once a drama teacher and theatre-in-education actor himself, and says he started writing books because he was tired of the characters he invented for the stage "disappearing into the ether". This time, he has the best of both worlds: Horrible History: the mad millennium will be published by Scholastic and is likely to be performed in other parts of the United Kingdom next year.

All the history, if short on dates ("the only reason you have dates is so that teachers can test them", says Deary firmly) is accurate. But Terry Deary maintains that this, like the rest of his work, is really about understanding human nature, not the past. Cardiff children have the advantage of testing this first, at the Sherman Theatren from tonight. Tickets: 01222 646900.

"Fall off a log (twice), Crazy legs, a Dusty, a Suzy Q, finish Frog, Peck, peck, peck - and Scarecrow." Jazz dance has a language all its own. Once learned, the colourful names of steps should make it easier to learn the sequences of movements - at least that's the theory. The class, led by professional dancers Jeanefer Jean-Charles and Leon Hazelwood of Bullies Ballerinas Jazz Productions at London's Paddington Arts, picked up Jeanefer's choreography with remarkable speed. The complicated rhythmic movements seemed to lodge instantly in their brains.

The nine, mainly post-school-age, dancers had passed an audition to get on to this course of six sessions, which will lead to a performance at North Westminster Community School's Studio Theatre in west London on June 29 and 30 as part of Reachout. This celebration of Westminster youth dance is a Studio Theatre initiative. For tickets, or to discuss mounting a project at the theatre: 0171 641 8424.

Newly-qualified dancers and the 2,000 now training in the UK will be glad of A Dancer's Survival Guide, published last week by Dance UK. Deborah Bull, principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, says: "Although leaving school and starting a job can seem like the fulfilment of a student's dreams, in reality it is just a new beginning. Most professional dancers would admit that a map to guide them through this process would have been extremely welcome. Here is such a map." Available from Dance UK: 0181 741 1932.

Rather more mature explorers of the arts and human nature will display their work in the Sasha Young Exhibition at Bankside Gallery, London SE1, on June 11 and 12. The exhibition will feature painting, sculpture, textiles and photography by students of the Open College of the Arts, who pursue their courses in home study. Students of the OCA may be any age from 14 to 90. For information: 01226 730495.

Audiences of adults and children over eight are invited to Tristan and Isolde, a version specially written for Devon-based PuppetCraft by veteran youth theatre playwright Nick Stimson, at the Little Angel Theatre, Islington, north London, tonight. The company performs this classic love story with the help of sculptural puppets, shadows, song and projected photographic images. The Arts Council tour continues into the autumn. For a list of venues: 01803 867778.

From a traditional tale to one which couldn't be more about the here and now. Respected children's theatre company Pop-up has devised a show about gambling, Lucky You, in which computer-mad Lydia and coin-tossing Flip find themselves drawn into a "sparkling virtual casino website where a demonic 3-D gaming host offers them a chance to win their heart's desire". The drama, says the pre-publicity, "gambles on audience instinct to determine the fate of Lydia and Flip". The over-sevens for which the piece has been written are expected to "interact" with and determine the shape of the action. Pop-Up Theatre is in London E1. School bookings: 0171 837 7588.

Heather Neill

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