Art beat;Children's books

10th September 1999 at 01:00
Holidays over, we're all back on duty with (we hope) renewed enthusiasm and energy. Spot new secondary pupils in uniforms two sizes too big, last term's GCSE students metamorphosed into sophisticated sixth-formers and newly-qualified teachers bent on establishing authority, friendliness, seriousness of purpose and fun all at once.

What would any of these groups make of 'William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream' (PG)? Set in Edwardian Tuscany, with Athens re-christened Monte Athena, this is a lavish, glamorous production, prickling with stars - Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania, Rupert Everett as Oberon, Kevin Kline as Bottom and John Sessions in the relatively small part of Philostrate. If the fairies melt risibly into skipping lights reminiscent of Tinker Bell, this doesn't detract from the glorious flower-filled landscape, the elegant piazzas and Renai-ssance palaces dripping with Verdi and Puccini.

Whether the rest of the film lives up to its setting is a moot point. The main characters remain for the most part resolutely British or American and the young lovers - Hermia (Anna Friel), Helena (Calista Flockhart), Lysander (Dominic West) and Demetrius (Christian Bale) - seem refugees from Soapland. They look stunning but fail to capture the comic-serious lightness of the text, despite wallowing in a woodland mudbath and lavish use of bone-shaker bicycles. The film is a tribute to the bicycle. Even Puck (a bald Stanley Tucci) pedals off along the forest paths.

Kevin Kline is a touching, rather sentimental, Bottom while Pfeiffer and Everett represent the acme of physical beauty, with Oberon affectionate enough to regret his callous manipulation of the Fairy Queen. The mechanicals' play is genuinely funny, but it's stretching a point to make Flute (Sam Rockwell), playing Thisbe, suddenly act sufficiently competently to bring tears of emotion rather than hysteria.

To answer the question, this is a film to charm a teenage girl although it may leave her English teacher a trifle unsatisfied, especially if the teacher is puritanical enough to disapprove of an edited script. On general release from September 24.

Younger children all over England and Wales can see another favourite text adapted, this time for the stage. Compass Theatre's production of 'The Wind in the Willows' is described as "chock-a-block full of humour, nostalgia and wonder", and it is accompanied by an education programme including story-telling workshops. By now, primary teachers probably do not need to have it pointed out to them that the most pleasurable activity can be linked to the National Literacy Strategy. Wind in the Willows is no exception. For infor-mation about tour dates and workshops, call 0114 275 5328.

You have to be in London and aged 16 to 18 to benefit from a clever scheme to combine architecture and music, Sound Space: tune into architecture. Participants are invited to turn up at the Imagination Building, Store Street, London WC1, on September 19 armed with a personal stereo. There they will receive a Sound Space music pack containing a tape with tracks chosen to relate to five London buildings, the Imagination Building itself, Channel Four headquarters, Paxton Locher (a private house), the Ark (at the Hammersmith flyover) and Richard Rogers' house. Participants are asked to match tracks to buildings or suggest other suitable music. They have the chance to win a Sony MiniDisc player and free tickets to a concert, and to meet DJ Paul Oakenfold. In the next stage of the programme, students will design their own spaces. For more information: Open House, 0207 267 2070.

The British Federation of Young Choirs is launching a Young Conductor Apprenticeship Scheme. Throughout the year, eight young conductors will work with a local youth choir while attending regional and national training events. For information, call 01509 211664.

Young composers in the East Midlands are also being offered a chance to shine. Composer Michael Finnissy will launch Composers of the 21st Century - a Helix Ensemble Project with a workshop on September 26 at the University of Leicester. A-level students and observers will be encouraged to enter a competition and evaluation early in the New Year. Up to five works will be selected for first performance by the Helix Ensemble, and the project will culminate in a concert in March. Information: 0850 002643 There's a chance to catch the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, newly returned from a successful tour of Argentina and performing an enterprising programme at the Barbican on Monday. Chinese instruments will combine with Western ones in John Manduell's Double Concerto for Di-Zi and Erthu. Andrew Peggie's Les Petites fanfares de ceux qui courent apr s leur ombre will receive its first UK performance. Tickets: 0171 638 8891.

Enjoy the arts for the last few months of this millennium!

Heather Neill

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