The boardroom at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital was full of children. They quickly got into groups, each led by an adult, and began to transform themselves into pirates or lost children. It could have been any primary school drama class preparing for an end-of-term production of Peter Pan. You might notice that a few of the participants were wired to drips, but it didn't seem to be affecting their enjoyment - or their performance.
Members of the Chicken Shed Theatre Company are familiar with the situation, but not the venue. Their philosophy is to be inclusive, paying no attention to disability, however severe, but they usually work at their north London HQ or in the community. The Great Ormond Street residency has been in place since September, and culminated in a production of Peter Pan at the Duke of York Theatre in the West End, and a cast of 700, including lots of extra pirates.
Now, with professional actor (and former Chicken Shed member) Sebastian Gonzales in the title role, director Paul Morrell is preparing a smaller version for the hospital with children from nearby St George the Martyr primary.
Susan Hill is such an enthusiast for the company that she finds herself in the office most days, despite living in High Wycombe. The mother of three daughters, one with Down's syndrome, she searched for an activity that could involve them all and stigmatise none of them. She discovered Chicken Shed. Her Down's daughter is now 17, has taken seven GCSEs and hopes, after a BTec in performance arts, to work for the company herself.
Children aged five to 14 can join the children's theatre; 14 to 24-year-olds graduate to the youth theatre. Anyone over 16 can take a BTec in performing arts, and at 24 is eligible to join the professional company. Older children naturally help younge ones and no one ever says anything is impossible.
One thousand people come through the company's doors every week, but there is a long waiting list, so Chicken Shed is now disseminating its expertise, setting up training in several London boroughs in an attempt to make the labels "special" and "mainstream" irrelevant. As Susan Hill says, we all have to "walk the street together" in adult life. For information: 020 8351 6161; www.chickenshed.org.uk British Youth Opera is celebrating the appointment of opera star Sir Thomas Allen as its president.The BYO provides young people hoping to make a career in opera with training and opportunities for performance. More than 500 singers and hundreds of orchestral players have benefited since BYO was founded in 1987. For information: 020 7815 6090.
The Mousetrap Foundation's Teachers' Preview Club is offering the chance to see a variety of West End productions, including Stones in his Pockets, Madame Melville and The Car Man. For information: 020 7240 1248; www.mouse trap.org.uk Well-organised drama and theatre arts teachers might also like to note the Theatre Museum's April 2 in-service day on race and identity, which will advise on multicultural texts. Bookings: 020 7943 4806.
The delightful north London gallery that houses the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art is mounting the first exhibition in the English-speaking world on the subject of Futurism and Photography. More than 150 rare vintage prints by 25 photographers dating from 1909 to 1939 will be on display. There will be examples of photodynamism, invented by Anton Giulio Bragaglia in 1911, which records speed and the trajectories of bodies. From January 24 to April 22. 39a Canonbury Square, London N1. Information: 020 7704 9522, www.estorickcollection.com Heather Neill.