Advanced age of adventure

10th August 2001 at 01:00
Tall tales from the oldest superhero in the book are among this week's arts highlights, previewed by Judith Palmer.

"In its time, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was as famous as Gulliver's Travels. It's so nice to be able to pluck it out and rejuvenate it," says Peter Glanville, artistic director of children's theatre company Kazzum. "I love finding new ways of contemporising traditional stories."

Written by Rudolf Raspe in 1785, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is based on the life of a real officer in the Russian army of the mid-18th century who told absurdly exaggerated tales of his own exploits. (Raspe was no model of probity himself. A Hanoverian court librarian, he published the stories to finance his life on the run, after being caught stealing rare volumes from the royal collections.) Kazzum (pronounced as chasm) has recreated the fantastical worlds of the fibbing baron in a stage version of the tale, which opens this week at the Southwark Playhouse in London. It's a theatrically ingenious production that uses puppetry, mask-work and physical theatre to tell the story.

The god Vulcan is a tiny puppet body with a human head; the Baron is all puppet, but for a large human hand. The real and the fabricated are all mixed up, as if demonstrating the grain of truth that might float somewhere among all the distortions and inventions.

Amid bookshelves that turn into mountains, and huge metal flying machines, the Baron's adventures take him past three-mile-long serpents, down volcanoes and up to a crimson moon in a search for the lost love of his youth. Kazzum tells the tale in flashbacks, with a Baron now aged 154 and embroidering yarns in an old people's home. "We wanted to see what happens to superheroes when they get older," says Glanville.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is at Southwark Playhouse, 62 Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 until August 25. Performances: Mon-Sat at 3pm, plus 7.30pm Wed and Sat. Tel: 020 7620 3494.

Dewsbury Museum has organised a series of family activity days ideal for children to share with their grandparents. Baron Munchausen might have taught his grand-children dragon-slaying techniques, but even the modern grandparent has a repertoire of games and skills to pass on.

Learn French knitting or how to make paper boats and kites today. Relive the English seaside experience on August 24, examining 1950s bathing suits and holiday postcards, or join craft sessions making Punch and Judy puppets and sand pictures. Displays have been selected to trigger reminiscences and encourage the sharing of skills across the generations. Craftspeople are on hand to help prod memories. Dewsbury Museum, Crows Nest Park, Heckmondwike Rd, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire (01924 325100). Free craft sessions 10.30am-12.30pm and 2-4pm.

The work of sculptor Stefan Gec taps into the rich under-currents of history and memory that lie beneath the veneers of our shiny, regenerated cities. His public artwork, "Deep Navigation", has just been unveiled on a permanent waterfront site on the Bute West Dock, Cardiff Bay.

The Oval Basin, part of the dock, had lain derelict since 1964, when coal exports from the dock ceased. The sculpture Gec was commissioned to make for the revamped site reinforces the bonds between coalface and quayside.

For his research, Gec visited the Tower colliery at Hirwaun, the last remaining deep mine in south Wales, which had been bought out by its workers in 1994. He discovered that the mine had once been owned by the Marquis of Bute, the same man who had constructed Cardiff's Oval Basin. Gec melted down disused railway tracks from the colliery and metal bollards from the dock and cast a pair of identical columns. The classical columns, which mimic the wealthy Victorian buildings of Bute Town, were engraved. One carries a long list of all the deep mines still operating in 1964, the other bears the names of all the ports to which the dock used to export the coal. The columns stand as an evocative memorial to the speed of the industrial devastation that followed.

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