Heather Neill

School life may not always be a barrel of laughs these days, but at least you are not a Victorian muffin seller. Representatives of the muffin and crumpet trade are reduced to hurling their products at politicians during the National Youth Theatre's two-evening production of Nicholas Nickleby at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. But laws curtailing street sales are not the main point of this two-part adaptation of Dickens's novel by playwright David Edgar. Here is classic storytelling with plenty of scope for a large cast who can give full rein to colourful character acting while dressed in crinolines and spats (or rags if they are inmates at Dotheboys Hall).

Edward Wilson deploys his company picturesquely on a versatile set designed by Lotte Collett. They enjoy themselves, especially as the cast of Romeo and Juliet, supplied with a happy ending by Vincent Crummles and his company of travelling players. One after another, the dead revive uttering cod Elizabethan lines of hilarious bathos. Tim Delap and Amanda Hippie acquit themselves well as Nicholas and his sister, Kate, but when the grotesque characters show no constraint they provide especial pleasure. Amy Brown as an amorous Fanny Squeers, blonde curls bobbing, determination on her pink face, may have a future in comedy. She radiates personality.

The first half is long - the farcical tragedy becomes a touch self-indulgent and the pace is not always sufficiently swift. But this production is fun, veering between pantomime and sentimentality - much as Dickens does.

The Holyland, the NYT's other offering,could scarcely be more different. Daragh Carville's play is set in the streets around Queen's University, Belfast, and explores the lives of 16 of the residents, including several students, on the last day of the year. They are a rum bunch, among them a young woman who seems to need a bad spirit exorcised, drug dealers who snort the ashes of a dead colleague, a would-be suicide and a camp party-giver who takes bets on which celebrities will die in the following year. Very short scenes are intercut in televisual style. The play doesn't add up to much, but it is played with terrific commitment and verve by a brave and energetic cast. In rep until September 15. Tickets: 020 8741 2311. Information about auditions: 0845 603 9063; other projects: 020 7281 3863. Website: Thousands of young people are promising to practise their musical instruments for a good cause. Practice-a-thon! is being run by Sargent Cancer Care for Children and could raise pound;1 million or more. Already 40,000 young musicians have signed up to be sponsored. Pupils should register now, get their special pack and choose a fortnight for sponsored practice in the spring. Families and some professional musicians will also take part. To register: 020 8752 2866 or email: Those who have proved the value of practice will be taking part in the free Children's Prom in the Park on September 16, in the afternoon, in Hyde Park. The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra will be joined by Brit Awards winning band A1 and stars from children's television.

Dance teachers can benefit from a workshop day at the Festival Hall in London tomorrow, where they can share experiences with professional dancers. Different Takes in Dance focuses on encouraging boys to get up and have a go. Tickets: 020 7960 4242.

At the Cornerhouse in Manchester All Colours Will Agree in the Dark will celebrate the varied works of 13 artists from the Manchester Metropolitan University's MA fine art course - everything from video to reworked children's scrawls can be seen from September 22-30.

Heather Neill

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Heather Neill

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