29th September 2000 at 01:00
The year 1066 must be the most famous date in British history and the Battle of Hastings one of its most significant turning points (even if some 18-year-olds, one in 10 according to the Daily Mirror, think 1066 was the date of the Battle of Britain). On October 14 and 15, the ruins of Battle Abbey in Hastings will echo once again with the sounds of combat as more than 1,000 Norman and Saxon warriors, 100 or so on horseback, re-enact William the Conqueror's invasion.

Expect the clank of armour and the swish of battle-axes, as William grapples with Harold on the anniversary of the original battle. On top of the fierce hand-to-hand fighting, more tranquil activities - such as weaving, calligraphy and music - will take place in a living history encampment. Organised by English Heritage, which has also put on more than 40 events with a sculptural theme as part of English Heritage Year of Public Sculpture 2000, the Battle of Hastings anniversary offers an enjoyable way of learning about the past. Details: 01793 414910.

Fans of The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer's stories about pilgrims on their journey from London to Thomas a Becket's shrine, will have a chance to see souvenirs and other historical artefacts at Chaucer's Londoners (October 13 to November 26), the Museum of London's exhibition marking the 600th anniversary of his death. Items from this enthralling show include a fine 15th-century manuscript of the tales and a page from William Caxton's 1476 printed version, the first English book printed in Britain.

Also featured are pilgrimage badges, which would have been familiar to the bawdy Wife of Bath, papal seals from the sort of fake indulgences that the Pardoner might have peddled, and scientific equipment of the time. Events include a study day, a medieval costume day and an evening lecture by Terry Jones, formerly of Monty Python and now almost as famous for Chaucer's Knight and, more recently, for his children's books, including The Lady and the Squire. In November, Sunday afternoon screenings of The Animated Canterbury Tales, a series of free 30-minute films, are an ideal introduction to Chaucer for children. More details: 020 7600 3699.

On the other side of town, at the Haymarket Theatre, the innovative and highly successful afternoon Masterclasses - aimed at 16 to 23-year-olds - continue this autumn, with events led by actors Samuel West and Timothy West (October 2 and 10), Alan Rickman (October 17) and writer Alan Ayckbourn (October 31). On October 19, Geoffrey Colman - head of performance at the Central School of Speech and Drama - will run a useful session on helping students get into drama school.

Suzy Humphries, who runs the events, says: "Masterclass is not just about education, it's also an opportunity for sixth-formers and A-level students to have their eyes opened and to respond to a whole range of new ideas. Most find the experience truly inspirational."

Other events plannedfor next year include PlayWrite, a project for young writers, and Opening Doors, to help you get started in theatre. Details: 020 7389 9660.

Those in a more argumentative mood might care to pop over to the National Theatre, which is staging Theatre of Debate, a series of 45-minute readings of new plays by young writers on the subject of medicine and humanity.

Commissioned by NT Education - in partnership with Y-Touring and King's College London medical students - they include Wicked Problems by Nicola Baldwin (which looks at how death and bereavement affect young people), Playing God by Rhiannon Tise (the ethics of kidney transplants) and Juggling with Chainsaws by Jonathan Hall (love and ethics during a hospital power cut). Each reading begins at 6pm in the Olivier Theatre.

These readings are the culmination of a process which has involved working with schools from all around the country, developing plays and discussing the pros and cons of such issues as animal transplants and genetics.

Sarah Nicholson, education and training administrator, says: "We have looked hard at the various scientific, ethical and medical dilemmas and used drama to explore the issues they've raised."

The readings offer good material for classroom discussion. Future plans include the publication of playscripts by students who took part in the run-up to the readings. NT Education: 020 7452 3309; box office: 020 7452 3000. Willy Russell's Educating Rita, one of the all-time feel-good plays for teachers, is being revived by Hull Truck Theatre. Director Kate Bramley calls it "clever, accurate and timeless", and says: "I love the way it focuses on the contrasting journeys of the staid professor, Frank, and the knowledge-hungry Rita." Starring Karl Howman and Holly Newman, Educating Rita runs from October 5 to 28.

Those who missed Hull Truck's fine touring productions of Thick as a Brick, Teechers and Bouncers have another chance to see all three shows as they hit the nationwide touring trail. Box office: 01482 323638.

Finally, for art that is disturbing and thought-provoking, Gillian Wearing's first major solo exhibition is at London's Serpentine Gallery (until October 29). Wearing won the Turner Prize in 1997. Her videos of alcoholics and down-and-outs are posed in studios, but the human desperation of the individuals emerges despite these anodyne surroundings. "Trauma" (2000) and "Drunk" (2000) are both powerful visions of contemporary life in Britain today.

Wearing's work - with its excruciating images of loss and disturbance - provides a lot of material for debates about whether art can represent poverty and whether watching other people's misery is voyeuristic. It's all a far cry from dressing up in historical costume. Educational activities include gallery talks, events for National Deaf Awareness Week and a drawing day on October 21. Details: 020 7298 1514.

Aleks Sierz

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