Outlook is Fine after a marathonday of distress

Follow Ayckbourn's grotesques with a gala of children's writing, writes Heather Neill


Watching three plays by Alan Ayckbourn in succession is a bit like observing a non-stop carnival of grotesques - grotesques who look horribly familiar. In GamePlan, the first of the Damsels in Distress trilogy, all set in the same Docklands flat, 16-year-old Sorrel decides to help her hopeless, fag-addicted, dotcom-failed mother by becoming an internet hooker. The first half of this play provides the best entertainment of the day (you can see them all on Saturdays). Sorrel's efforts at seduction and her gauche friend Kelly's nervous attempts to be a tarty maid are simultaneously hilarious, touching and disturbing. The way the plan fails sets both the girls and the playwright a fascinating conundrum. Unfortunately, the introduction of unbelievable police officers and an unlikely tabloid journalist fails to provide a satisfactory solution.

The other two plays, FlatSpin and RolePlay, are, more simply, a farce and a farcical comedy of manners, involving a drugs sting and a disastrous meeting of in-laws respectively. There are some outstanding performances, especially from Jacqueline King as an elegant lush in RolePlay and Alison Pargeter as spotty Kelly, a sex-mad house-sitter and gangland lapdancer. Duchess Theatre, London. Tickets: 0870 890 1103, www.rutheatres.com.

Book festival

Young readers who can get to Cheltenham between October 11 and 20 are in for a literary banquet. The Children's Laureate, Anne Fine, and other authors including Darren Shan, David Almond, Melvin Burgess, Jamila Gavin and Michael Morpurgo, as well as author-illustrator Shirley Hughes and poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Michael Rosen, will hold sessions at Book It!, the children's section of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. There will be creative writing and cartoon workshops and events for three to five-year-olds. Early booking is advised: 01242 227979; www.cheltenhamfestivals.co.uk.

Children's book art

The Illustration Cupboard will present its first themed exhibition, Fables and Folktales, at Thomas Williams Fine Art Gallery in Old Bond Street between September 23 and 28 . It's a glamorous setting, where grubby fingers are not the norm, but adults will enjoy the chance to see scenes from Inga Moore's Wind in the Willows and Jane Ray's Fairytales with their gold-encrusted illustrations. Information: 020 7491 1485. View and buy online from September 23 at www.illustrationcupboard.com.

Buddha installation

British-Chinese artist Anthony Key will today complete the casting of bricks needed to build an eight-foot-high Buddha at a deconsecrated chapel in Bath. The bricks are plaster casts of Chinese takeaway food containers. For Key, the cultural fusion is a metaphor for the Chinese immigrant at odds with his environment. Construction will take place next week at Walcot Chapel and Brick by Brick: Displacement Takeaways and a Giant Buddha can be viewed from September 24 to October 19. It is organised by the Edward Wilmot Blyden Project in collaboration with the University of Bath; www.voxonline.co.uk.

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