It's a strangely magical experience, sitting under a tree in a wood near Athens watching snatches of A Midsummer Night's Dream. To be absolutely accurate the "wood" is in a sprawling 19th-century converted warehouse beside the Thames at Rotherhithe in east London, but The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream is genuine Shakespeare on film.
Christine Edzard, probably best known for her 1987 six-hour Little Dorrit, has followed her instinct - that pre-pubescent children would bring a freshness and directness to The Dream - and cast it with eight to 12-year-olds from Southwark schools. This isn't just a nice idea or even a worthy gesture; Edzard is a serious film-maker and she intends to end up with a piece of work which people will want to see. Which doesn't mean to say that the benefits for the children from six primary and two secondary schools in the area have not been enormous.
Children would spend perhaps two afternoons a week for several weeks rehearsing and filming their scenes. Most had little previous experience of Shakespeare, for some English was not their mother-tongue and a few had difficulty with reading. Yet the text is cut no more than it would be for an adult production. Olivier Stockman, the producer, says that he and Edzard provided cassettes of the script recorded by friendly professionals including Sir Derek Jacobi, and, if necessary, the young actors learned their lines by listening to them. But Edzard says that the language wasn't a particular problem. "They might ask about basic words but were unfazed by things that would make adults dive for explanatory notes. They would go for the general sense."
Performances in the finished scenes show concentration, commitment and the pleasure of making something which is both worthwhile and fun. The costumes are gorgeous - velvet, lace and diaphanous net - but then Sands Films, Edzard's company, has won awards for dressing the likes of last year's television Great Expectations and Mike Leigh's film about Gilbert and Sullivan, Topsy Turvy. The children helped in the making of the set and the music - there were 300 of them involved altogether.
The logistics of getting the participants to the studio were complicated enough, and each had to be delivered safely home afterwards as well. But the real headache has been the funding. Organised in collaboration with Southwark Education Business Alliance, the project has received no support from any official arts or education funding body. Now in post-production, Edzard and her colleagues are proceeding with determination and optimism, but dwindling cash reserves. The editing should be finished by the end of January, but the children are already working on a promotional book. "I'm getting ambitious," says Edzard. "If we are going to have photographs, we should have the text, that means a glossary and then you need something on Shakespeare's life and times as well."
News of distribution is yet to come, but for further information see www.sandsfilms.co.uk or email email@example.com Some of the Dream children knew Damilola Taylor, the boy whose bleak and tragic death has drawn attention to this area of south London. A minute's silence was held for him last week at the beginning of Shakespare's Globe's Concert for Winter 2000 just a little further along the river. Then children from schools, introduced by singer Michelle Gayle, each sang two Christmas songs to an appreciative audience. In fact some were enjoying the extra session on the steel pans so much that they didn't want to go home. Information about other GlobeEd events: 020 7920 1433.
Pizza Express in Dean Street, Soho, was the venue for the launch of Jazzworks, Jazz FM's new season of workshops in Greater London to add to the ones they already do in the north west. A darkened jazz club, some terrific jazz (including a number played by a combo from Woodbridge High, Woodford Green) and spectacular, acrobatic dancing from a duo called Jazzcotech, transformed an ordinary Tuesday lunch-time into a replica of a cool night out. Rachel Cadwallader, music teacher at Woodbridge, is looking forward to the workshop in her school. There will be an introductory session for one year group and a more specialised two-hour workshop to teach GCSE and A-level instrumentalists improvisation, followed by a concert given by the Jazz FM Band and some of the pupils. Richard Wheatly, chief executive of Jazz FM says "Everything is provided free and all the students get a CD". These, posters and other materials are made available with the help of "substantial" sponsorship from Nestle. Information: Simon Balme 020 7706 4100.
Schools proud of their arts provision will soon be able to apply for Artsmark recognition. The Arts Council of England has set up this scheme, whereby schools awarded an Artsmark, Artsmark Silver or Artsmark Gold will be supported to improve their provision further and encouraged to form links with partners, including other schools, artists and arts organisations. The benefits for teachers include raising the status of their work within schools and providing access to examples of good practice through the scheme's guidance documents. This is an excellent way to raise the profile of a school within the community and will eventually have the effect of increasing awareness of arts education and providing a base for lobbying for better resources.
Schools can register their interest by providing a named contact and the school's name, address, telephone and email information at the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. All registered schools, including special schools, will be sent an application pack. Further information: www.artsmark.org.uk (not yet set up). From mid-January application forms may be downloaded from the website and returned by email. The Artsmark helpline is 0800 0560 196.
OK, I know, I've ignored Christmas so far. Well, Lee Hall (writer of Billy Elliot) has written a new version of Pinocchio - the real story, that is - and children of all ages seem to enjoy Marcello Magni's production at the Lyric theatre, Hammersmith, with its puppets, excellent wooden (in the best sense) performance by Eric Mallett and many other magical and sinister characters. Theatre students will expect Commedia influence from Magni and they won't be disappointed. The Cricket isn't a nagging Disney conscience; she gets squashed. Everything is fine in the end, though, as it should be. Tickets: 020 8741 2311.