24th March 2000 at 00:00
Watching a Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare film, one always gets the sense of a good time having been had in the making of it. Ensemble playing, often with parts given to an unofficial "company" of friends such as Richard Briers or Derek Jacobi, was a strength in Henry V and Hamlet; Much Ado about Nothing looked like one big Italian party. And now we have Love's Labour's Lost (U), an unashamed celebration both of the Thirties Hollywood musical and of the Branagh song and dance club. Oh, and Shakespeare.

As the running time is only 90 minutes - and that includes 10 show-stopping numbers from the likes of Gershwin, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern - the words "based on" are a necessary warning to those expecting the equivalent of the RSC on screen. Enough of the text is there, though, for an introduction. Whether it fits the Thirties setting comfortably is another matter.

Genuine Pathe newsreel of the build-up to war and its outbreak is mixed with cod grainy black and white shots of the young gentlemen of Navarre with their king as he decrees a three-year, womanless period of study for himself and his friends. When war begins and the young gents join up, they look very like English public school officers. But Navarre is a fantasy. And as for an active French monarchy in the middle of the 20th century - well, history teachers had better be ready with a corrective.

Dancing is also to be eschewed during the king's monastic period, but in no time he and his friends are cavorting with the visiting Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting. It is difficult not to be beguiled (if grudgingly) by the romantic, fairy-tale, and sometimes funny, set-pieces and glamorous settings. Busby Berkeley choreography, synchronised swimming, beautiful people in gorgeous costumes - how could anyone fear Shakespeare?

As a homage to Thirties Hollywood, the film is charming rather than slick. No Fred Astaires or Cyd Charisses emerge from the Anglo-American cast which includes Alicia Silverstone, Richard Briers and Natascha McElhone, as well as Branagh himself. One just imagines the fun they all had on those long days of rehearsal, which is where the curmudgeonly note creeps in: are we really being invited to join in the fun or is this a closed star-kissed club?On general release from March 31.

From the fantastic to the down-to-earth. Roy Williams's play Local Boy at the Hampstead Theatre brings a five-a-side football team to the stage, and successfully so according to the 14-year-old footballers in the audience who without hesitation declared it "real".

There are four boys and one girl in the racially-mixed team which is coached by the grl-player's sister. In the course of an hour, Williams contrives to bring this little community alive and to give the female characters reasons to move on from their dependency on either a man or the success of the five-a-side team.

The dialogue rings absolutely true and, after early scenes when delivery of lines was so speedy that the meaning got lost, the acting is spot-on. Kurt, the troubled car thief with a short fuse (played with uncanny accuracy by Martin Delaney), is recognisable as that disruptive boy in every Year 9 who needs help but can only upset everyone else. The clever girl who falls for him, Max (Petra Letang) is both a convincing character anda useful role model as she learns to make up herown mind.

Altogether this is a moral piece - joy-riding leads to disaster and team spirit is a virtue - but never preachy. There is a programme of workshops, led by Roy Williams, director Julie Ann Robinson and members of the cast, culminating in a one-day festival of music and drama on May 14. Young people in Camden can join on-going Hampstead Theatre workshops. Information: 020 7722 9224.

Composer Howard Goodall's five-part Channel 4 series Big Bangs got off to an excellent start on March 12 with a fascinating programme about the birth of musical notation. An Italian monk called Guido of Arezzo changed the course of Western music by putting dots on the lines of a stave. Goodall is an entertaining guide who manages to find a tone for all levels. Teachers will enjoy his easy erudition as much as their students.

After opera, he next plunges into "equal temperament" and deals with intervals between notes and scales. After that, the piano takes centre stage and then recorded music. Don't miss this series. Sundays at 8pm.

Vanessa Redgrave has praised the efforts of 12,000 children aged between four and 16 who took part in 100 simultaneous performances of children's musical, TheRainbow Juggler, and raised pound;50,000 for Unicef. Stagecoach Theatre arts school set up the record-breaking sing-in to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the UN convention on the rights of the child.

Three hundred children from seven local schools will stage Jesus Light of the World at the arts college at Bridgewater high school, Warrington, on April 12 and 13. Helen Newall has written the piece, which uses dance, drama and music and is based on medieval mystery plays. Information from Richard Hall: 01925 263919.

Readers in the West can see Wells Cathedral School's performance of The Tempest this weekend. It has a score featuring African drums, harp and recorders by pupil composer Stephen Barton. Tickets: 01749 672117.

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