Art Beat;Children's books;Arts

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
Quentin Blake, the first Children's Laureate, has a picture-book style which is among the most recognisable for young readers. The energy, wit and vigour of his drawings have made his own characters - Patrick, Mrs Armitage and all - and those of other writers, like Roald Dahl's BFG, favourites with the under-10s. Russell Hoban is another of his writer-collaborators (notably on Captain Najork) and now these two have embarked on a completely different venture, a book for adults.

Woman with a Book contains 20 watercolour drawings, grey-blue or sepia, on the theme of women reading, with an introductory essay by Hoban. The figures are in various attitudes - rapt, sleepy, cheerful, disdainful - always in relation to books. They have the same sense of swiftness in execution and quickness of observation familiar in the children's illustrations, but there is a pensiveness, a depth of humanity in these blue and brown strokes which gives them a quite different sophistication. The book, published by Camberwell Press in a limited edition of 300, will not fit into a Christmas stocking -it is the size of a small table - nor, at pound;249, most budgets. But an illustrated talk by Quentin Blake, 50 Years in Print, on November 16 at the Cochrane Theatre, London WC2, is free. Tickets must be booked in advance: 0171 242 7040.

The centenary of another favourite illustrator, Edward Ardizzone, will be celebrated in an exhibition, Running Away to Sea, at the Camberwell College of Arts, London SE5 from Tuesday to November 10. It will include the first showing on land of nursery murals painted for Pamp;O Canberra.

In Cornwall children are making their own artworks with the help of a charitable organisation, St Ives International. In a project called As Dark as Light, inspired by last summer's eclipse, American artist James Turrell created a "skyspace", a structure in a field near Penzance, from which spectators could observe the framed, ever-changing sky. A group of children from Ludgvan primary school nearby visited one morning and produced drawings in response to the site and Turrell's work. These will be the starting point for a residency by a local artist at the school. Four other schools will also focus in residencies on the specially commissioned work of contemporary artists on the same theme.

It need hardly be said that everyone should be encouraged to experiment with the arts when they are young, but sometimes encouragement can lead to coercion. Especially when it comes to practising a musical instrument. During 2 Pianos 4 Hands (Comedy Theatre: 0171 369 1731) there were adults in the audience wincing at memories of music exams, family rows and enforced incarceration with scales, arpeggios and a metronome. Canadians Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, directed by Jeremy Sams, have put together an intriguing show with nothing more than themselves and a couple of Steinways on a black and white set. The material is to a great extent autobiographical.

There are moments of anguish - Ted was humiliated, reduced to tears at his audition for the conservatoire; 17-year-old Richard was rejected by the Jazz Factory, told he was not in the same class as untrained 13-year-olds from the poor estates who had jazz in their souls - but, on the whole this show is a lot of fun. Dykstra and Greenblatt are talented actors and pianists and move easily between roles as parents, teachers, children, teenagers and adults. They give dazzling performances of Chopin, Bach, Liszt and Beethoven. Well, dazzling to most of us, although they are not concert pianists. The final scene (just before they lift the spirits with further virtuoso displays, ending with a wicked arrangement of Joplin's Maple leaf Rag) could be gloomy: we imagine that we or our children will have glorious careers, but most of us just end up paying the mortgage. Except that little Ted and Richard have confounded their critics and are doing very nicely thank you. No music teacher - or ambitious parent - should miss this show.

Other London plays useful to drama teachers are Antigone (Old Vic: 0171 369 1722) which displays the difficulty of combining high passion with stylised presentation in modern productions of ancient texts and The Jew of Malta (Almeida: 0171 359 4404). Marlowe's rumbustious, atheistic text is given full comic treatment by Michael Grandage's direction and Ian McDiarmid's scheming Barabas. Anyone studying The Merchant of Venice would find this a useful foil.

October is Black History Month and today is Black Theatre History Day. At the Theatre Museum (London, WC2 0171 836 7891, www.theatremuseum.vam.ac.uk) from now until the end of the month visitors can follow the Black Theatre History Trail which will include relevant prints, photographs, recordings and playbills, from the 19th century to modern productions by black companies such as Talawa and Temba. And next Thursday and Friday, the museum has "drop in" half term activities, concentrating on design, which are free to under-16s.

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