Anyone willing to risk open-air events, especially this year, qualifies for a bravery award, and a good place to start earning it is at London's Open Air Theatre Regent's Park with its rollicking version of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, in which Frederic and Mabel find true love despite obstacles such as cowardly pirates, miserable coppers and a "modern major general".

A policeman's lot may not be a happy one, but artistic director Ian Talbot is cheerful about the prospects for the show - despite the vagaries of the weather. The theatre, he says,"gives its audiences the total al fresco experience - fine play, delicious fare from the buffet and bar, and a magical atmosphere." Just don't forget to tap your feet - it keeps them warm. Opens July 28. Box office: 020 7486 2431.

On August 1, the same venue hosts Alice: An Adventure in Wonderland, a new adaptation by Charles Way of the Lewis Carroll books, jointly produced by the New Shakespeare Company and the Unicorn Theatre. For educational programme details, includingschool leavers' workshop for 16 to 19-year-olds, phone 020 7935 5756.

Further north, lovers of the circus might be tempted to sample the al fresco experience at Huddersfield's Greenhead Park, one of the venues for Kirklees's Summer Time Fun festival, starting July 27. It features Pete White's Suitcase Circus (cheeky chappie mixes spectacular juggling with magic tricks in a one-man show), Twisting Yarn Theatre Company (presenting Akulah Agbami's Big Sleep and the Clown) and the Splott Brothers (eccentric cabaret meets sheer silliness). The same venue hosts the Huddersfield Gala on August 13. Details: 01484 226 354.

Connoisseurs of weird and wonderful circus acts can also check out Canada's Cirque Eloize, whose Excentricus show wowed audiences at last year's Edinburgh Festival and which opens its UK tour at London's Barbican Centre on August 24. Using an amazing mix of dazzling acrobatics, comedy and rock music, the show's 15 performers include a flying saxophonist - all part of a colourful, noisy and animal-free event. With its workshops for wannabe circus performers, aged eight to 14, the Barbican welcomes families and also hosts drop-in workshops, and art and design classes. Box office: 020 7638 8891.

Anyone looking for a quieter time could try Made by Children, an exhibition of children's art organised by Hatton Arts at the Islington Museum, London (until July 30). Part of an ambitious project which uses poems to stimulate the pupils' creativity, the 50 paintings on show were selected from 1,000 produced at schools in Islington, Haringey and Waltham Forest. They rang from 13-year-old Josephine Cheroomi's "The Snail" - a wonderful mosaic of blues, greens and reds - to 14-year-old Kafai Mak's "My Face", an elegantly shaded pencil drawing. What project director Sharon Plant calls "the abundant confidence" of the children's art is evident at every turn. Details: 020 7288 0666.

Similarly creative is the Multi A project which sees American teacher Tim Rollins in Bristol to help local pupils create artwork based on Shakespeare's seasonal fantasy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Rollins (whose work with Kids of Survival in New York's Bronx shows how inspired leadership can stimulate the most recalcitrant pupils) and KOS will work with 30 primary and 30 secondary school children to study the play and produce flower artwork. Details from Multi A: 0117 914 7745.

If Shakespeare's play is magical, the spirit of carnival is rebellious. The Hayward Gallery's touring exhibition, Carnivalesque, in Nottingham until September 10, celebrates the rich imagery and blatant provocations of carnival time, when folk humour mocks upper-class culture. With more than 100 outrageous images, from a16th-century diptych that laughs at the church to a video by transvestite Leigh Bowery, the show seethes with famous fools and thumbs its nose at taste and decency. Events for kids have appealing names such asFooling Around and Tomfoolery. Details: 0115 915 3700.

Carnival is also the theme of this year's Battersea Arts Centre Children's Summer School, which has lots of reliable indoor fun for those aged between six months and 12 years. Whether it's Baby Time, in which tots can take their first steps in exploring songs and music, or Beats from the Streets, in which nine to 11-year-olds can pick up the latest dance moves, all the courses are good fun and stimulating. From July 31 to August 25. Box office: 020 7223 2223.

Equally delightful is the London Transport Museum's Thomas and Friends exhibition (until September 3), which - to coincide with the release of the film Thomas and the Magic Railroad - takes a nostalgic look at the charming engine and the era of steam. It features much railway memorabilia, including the tiny model train that inspired the Rev Christopher Awdry's Thomas the Tank Engine books. You don't have to be a trainspotter to enjoy the score of family-based activities, which include a Thomas inflatable, competitions and craft activities, plus the chance to meet Sir Topham Hat, the fat controller. Details: 020 7565 7299. Website: To avoid the crowds, remember that there is one venue that is still crying out for more visitors - it's called the Millennium Dome.

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