When the toughest gang in school asks him to join, Paul embraces its world of violence, law-breaking and truancy because it gives him protection and a sense of belonging. But then things turn dangerous, and Paul risks getting knifed, so he turns back to his fantasy world where martial arts skills are used for discipline and self-defence, and where respect is earned by tolerance and self-control.
Play To Win is a punchy piece of theatre which looks at the forces behind gang violence: cultural differences and the need to belong. The importance of technology in youth culture is shown through the use of digital animations which vividly illustrate Paul's fantasies. At previews, youngsters in the audience have taken the interactive aspect of the show to heart, calling out and waving their scarves.
The producers, London's new Soho Theatre and Yellow Earth, a British East Asian physical theatre company, worked closely with students from inner-city schools to find out what matters to young people today, and how they perceive their contribution to a culturally diverse society.
As director, Tse, who argues that the East Asian minority is "invisible" to the British media, says: "This is a play about finding your way through life and looking beneath the surface."
Play To Win is sponsored by Sainsbury's Checkout Theatre, which put up pound;45,000 to develop the play and help subsidise ticket prices. The theatre hosts family days, which offer children kids the chance to play on Dreamcast consoles and watch martial arts demonstrations, and an education programme, which includes workshops on bullying and on martial arts, as well as on the link between physical theatre and new writing. Details: 020 7478 0111. Free teacher's pack available at www.sohotheatre.com p-t-w If martial arts tire you out, you can always rest your eyes at Impression: Painting Quickly in France 1860-90, at London's National Gallery (until January 28 2001). This collection has been chosen to illustrate the practice of making "impressions", rapidly painted small canvasses frequently finished in one or two sessions outdoors. These sketches gave the Impressionist movement its name, even though most of the painters went on to produce paintings which, despite their appearance of spontaneity, actually took a long time to complete.
This exhibition features paintings by all the big names, including Renoir, Manet and Monet, and gives a good sense of the dazzling effects tht could be achieved by only a few speedy brushstrokes. The best work, such as Manet's "The Races at Longchamps", combine movement and lighting effects, and some pictures, such as the same artist's sketch for "The Bar at the Folies-Berg re", are interesting trial runs for more famous canvases. The show is all about movement and light: everywhere, you see rain glistening, trains letting off steam, crowds swaying, trees bending, winds blowing and sunsets blazing. Group bookings: 020 7747 2888.
One of the paintings in Impression is Camille Pissarro's "Dulwich College" (1871). Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer, was educated at Dulwich and the south London college is hosting an exhibition, Shackleton: The Antarctic and Endurance (until February 25 2001). It celebrates endurance and sacrifice with a moving and collection of paintings, photographs, letters, diaries, sledges, relics, cookery books, and even a crusty biscuit. There is also a film of Shackleton's ship, Endurance, being crushed by ice. After this disaster, Shackleton and his men sledged the ship's boats over the ice to Elephant Island. From there he sailed 800-miles to South Georgia to find help (the 25ft boat is on show). Fellow artic explorer Robert Scott was the subject of an exhibition at Greenwich Maritime Museum earlier this autumn (Friday, September 22). For children, Dulwich offers worksheets and storytelling sessions, and the shop has cuddly penguins. Details: 020 8299 9201.
Many weird and wonderful creatures result from explorations of the inner world of young people. Young Visions 16 is a show of young people's art at the Islington Arts Factory in north London (until December 8). Artists aged seven to 18 are exhibiting individual works and group projects produced over the past two years. From bizarre spider babies to "God and the Magician" - a huge, layered picture of a three-headed god, a two-headed magician and a table covered in magical objects - the show testifies to an interest in magic and fantasies about secret lives. The media used range from ceramic plates of imaginary fruit to oddly shaped dolls, from miniature oil paintings to wooden sculptures. Workshops and teacher's pack available. Details: 020 7607 0561.
Similarly colourful and imaginative is Jamila Gavin's Monkey in the Stars (until November 18), by Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, whose freshly painted facade reminds audiences that the theatre marks its 21st birthday this year. The play celebrates the Hindu festival of Diwali, and its fairy-tale story is seen through the eyes of a small girl, who is taken on a magical journey by Hanuman the Monkey God, to watch Prince Rama rescue the kidnapped Princess Sita from the clutches of Ravana, Lord of the Demons. It's a very rich visual piece, full of music and dance, which aims to give audiences aged six and above a thrilling tour of an imaginary India. Details: 020 8543 4888.