Art Beat

29th January 1999 at 00:00
Popularity can be a mixed blessing for an artist. Monet's lily pond, with its pretty Japanese bridge, has become such a birthday-card cliche that it's difficult to pay the image proper attention any more. And that is why the Royal Academy's exhibition Monet in the 20th century, is worth a visit.

Here are variations on that familiar subject that make you see not just the lily pond but Monet the technician in a new light. Sometimes the paint is overlaid so thickly that the canvas looks embroidered. Sometimes the many-flecked water surface is the main subject.

Sometimes the lilies are so bold and theatrical that they seem to have been painted by another hand entirely. Best of all are the studies of the weeping willows around the pond, which seem to invite the spectator to rest under their branches. The final room shows some of Monet's vast (200x300cm) Grandes Decorations, an apotheosis of the theme, painted when he was in his 80s.

The exhibition also has rooms devoted to Venice and a foggy London which show Monet's fascination with changing light and colour. He returned to the same subjects constantly, painstakingly completing canvasses begun abroad when he returned to his studio in Normandy. If ever proof were needed that learning from reproductions, including on screen, is just not comparable to scrutinising the real thing, this exhibition provides it in abundance.

Despite the weight of advance bookings and the attendant commercialism (don't leave without your Monet fridge magnet and mouse-pad), it remains possible to book guided tours for school parties (weekdays between 9am and 4pm) and secondary workshops - the primary ones are sold out. Try to arrive between 9am and 10am if possible - the gallery is less crowded then.

Monet in the 20th Century, An Introduction, a beautifully illustrated education edition of the guide, containing teaching suggestions, is free to any school making a booking. All visitors aged seven to 13 receive a simple guide, Meeting Monet, while older students, up to 18, can acquire Modern Monet - Guide for Secondary Students, on production of an exhibition ticket. Bookings, including for adult lectures, 0171 300 5733.

I hadn't intended to return to Shakespeare so soon, but last week seemed full of Hamlets. Paul Rhys will play the Prince of Denmark in Plymouth (01752 267222) in March and at London's Young Vic (0171 633 0133) in April. More about this in future weeks. Globe Education held a one-day Saturday conference with the London University Institute of Education, Shakespeare in the Contemporary Classroom, which was full of practical ideas from, among others, Rex Gibson, who had everyone breaking up text, and learning and performing scraps of it. Students from Haggerston School, Hackney, east London, staged a vigorous and funny plea for "cool" Shakespeare, which included Hamlet in the style of Channel 4's anarchic animation South Park (Details: 0171 902 1400). Then, in Plumstead Manor Girls' School, south London, on January 18, Theatre Unlimited's Hamlet Project began.

Shirley Sewell's GCSE drama class, depleted by flu, got to work with a will in a dimly-lit drama studio under the guidance of Rupert Wickham, another Hamlet-in-waiting. Wickham will soon start rehearsals for a production at Greenwich Theatre, to be directed by Chris Geelan, an old hand at Shakespeare workshops and still associated with the English Shakespeare Company. Along with 19 other groups, most but not all in schools, Plumstead Manor will develop a half-hour performance based on the play during weekly two-hour sessions until the end of February. Then, each evening before Hamlet proper, they will take the stage before 100 guests. Afterwards, everyone taking part will join the audience to watch Wickham's Hamlet.

At Plumstead Manor, more drama teacher than prince, he handed out short scenes and led the five groups into giving them headlines, treating them as news, tableaux or snippets of film in a range of styles from gangster to EastEnders. At the end of 90 minutes, everyone was familiar with the bare bones of the story and used to getting their tongues around bits of text. Anything could happen before they reach the stage at Greenwich - watch out for Laertes confronting Claudius in an Italian restaurant, or mass killings beside a Hollywood swimming pool. Details: 0171 243 0173

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