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The National Theatre is taking to the waterways. Best Mates, a new play by leading writer Sarah Daniels, is at the Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port, until tomorrow and will be at the National Waterways Museum, Gloucester Docks, next week and Three Mills Island studios, east London, in early October.

Sarah Daniels has taken real-life testimonies of people who worked on the canals, especially women, between 1900 and 1960 and woven them into the story of Jason, the class pest. He is on a waterways field trip when he meets Daisy and finds himself in another world.

Sarah Daniels' research has been extensive, but she says: "I wanted the story to be relevant, not about 'heritage'," and to this end she has cleverly linked the poor education experienced by canal children, on the move throughout the year, with Jason's illiteracy. This, it turns out, is why he is the bane of his teacher's life.

By the end of his journey he has learned (along with the audience) a good deal about the vanished life of canal people, who transported goods such as flour and cement. He has also met women from other times including a suffragette and a woman in the Second World War who, says Sarah, "wore trousers, which the canal people frowned on".

Jason's confidence grows, and, when he returns to his own time, he has found the courage to admit his difficulties. There is a full education programme designed for key stage 2 and 3 pupils and their teachers, including workshops, tours of museums and a workpack, on and There are school and public performances. Schools hotline: 01923 201 382; public bookings: 020 7452 3000.

The great painters could, no doubt, assume a certain respect from their proteges. Gerrit Dou: Rembrandt's first pupil (1613-1675), was, according to Dulwich Picture Gallery, the most famous Dutch painter of his day. He was best known for his scenes of daily life featuring mothers and children, schoolmasters, shopkeepers, scholars and musicians which, nevertheless, included symbolic and moral "messages" and were less straightforward than they seemed. He specialised in small-scale, jewel-like, intricate images.

The newly extended Dulwich Gallery is worth a visit in its own right and is nearer central London than you might think. During this exhibition (until November 19), the gallery will be open until 10pm on Fridays.

The award-winning education department is prepared to accommodate the needs of particular groups, basing workshops on the current exhibiion or the wider collection. Tel: 020 8299 8731; website: On September 30 at 3pm, London's Royal Albert Hall will witness Dancefest 2000, performances by 700 people aged eight to 80 from 24 nationwide movement and dance organisations, including an ensemble piece for more than 80 performers in black and red costumes and a finale for more than 400 performers moving to "Final Furlong", first heard at the Seoul Olympics.

This celebration of dance - everything from folk to cheerleading, Asian dance and a guest appearance by the Jiving Lindy Hoppers, is organised by the movement and dance division of the Central Council of Physical Recreation. Tickets: 020 7589 8212.

Earlier that day, at 10.30am, fans of writers Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo could find them in converation. This is one of the events in The Word for Children hosted by the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, which is celebrating its 21st birthday. The two-day programme - featuring such favourite writers as Malorie Blackman, Lynne Reid Banks, David Wood, Quentin Blake and Philip Ridley - is part of a week-long celebration of literature, The Word, which is taking place in venues all over London, but especially at Shakespeare's Globe in Southwark, between September 23 and October 1. For a detailed programme: Last Friday, Education Secretary David Blunkett attended the launch of Yorkshire Youth and Music's out-of-school initiative, Sounding Out. This is a major three-year initiative bringing together five Yorkshire local authority areas, 21 schools, two education action zones, the New Opportunities Fund and various trusts and charitable organisations. Children aged four to 14, of all abilities, will participate in a range of music-making including gospel choirs, Brazilian drumming, hip-hop, acapella singing and song writing.

Yorkshire is the place to be at the moment if you are a Ted Hughes fan. There is talk of a centre being built in his honour in his home town, Mytholmroyd, and just down the Calder Valley, Northern Broadsides Theatre Company is performing the last Poet Laureate's final work, a version of Euripides Alcestis at Dean Clough in Halifax before it sets off on tour. Information: 01422 369704.

Wales is in festival mood. From September 30 for a month there will be performance events all over the principality. For information about Restless Gravity (Siglo'r Sylfeini) 01970 621570; More about this in coming weeks.

Heather Neill

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