Rachel Whiteread is fascinated by the kind of hidden spaces that children seek and hide in: the bottoms of wardrobes, under tables and beds, behind the stairs. Her haunting sculpture exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery enters those dark and dusty parts of our lives we don't put on show.
Whiteread first seeped into the public consciousness in 1993 (the year she won the Turner Prize), when she made a concrete cast of the interior of an entire east London terraced house, a ghostly presence among a row of demolished homes, a house turned inside out. The Serpentine retrospective fills the galleries with her poignant domestic puzzles.
Whiteread makes casts of familiar objects, but then subverts and confuses them. A block of paunchy amber rubber slumped against the wall must surely be a mattress, but meticulous inspection reveals instead that it is a cast of the mattress-sized gap of under-bed space - a faint impression of hessian lightly hatching the surface. A bathtub cast in black urethane becomes sinister and sepulchral; the space beneath a 1950s drop-leaf kitchen table is solidified in plaster, transformed into a mausoleum slab. Approach each piece before reading the label and learn to read the tracery of clues: the chipped screwholes and woodgrain, the pigment which has leached from the pages of cheap pulp fiction. Renconstruct the missing item in your head, and tune in to the stories of the people whose lives scuffed the absent surface.
Rachel Whiteread, Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London W2, until August 5. Details: 020 7402 6075; www.serpentinegallery.org At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Scottish artists Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion have cast nylon Voyager tents in aluminium, and set up a luminous metal expedition campsite amid the rhododendrons. Across the lawn, inside the Pavilion Gallery, you can see their mesmerising film Another Place, an atmospheric portrait of people from the coastal village of St Combs, waiting dreamily against a rocky backdrop of waves and marram grass. Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Hall, West Bretton, near Wakefield, West Yorks, until August 27. Tel: 01924 830302.
East London's new centrefor the performing arts, the pound;16 million Stratford Circus, finally opens this week. The centre is committed to encouraging the community to make full use of its world-class facilities. Fittingly, Sarah Bonnell school, Stratford's racially diverse girls' comprehensive, is mounting one of the most exciting opening events: a fully staged performance of Henry Purcell's beautiful baroque English opera, Dido and Aeneas. "There's a lot of street culture in the school," says Sarah Bonnell's head of music, Jane Wheeler, "and a lot of face to be lost if you do anything too namby-pamby." More than 50 girls from Years 7 to 10 agreed to lay their street cred on the line.
Purcell wrote Dido and Aeneas for the "young gentlewomen" of Josias Priest's Chelsea girls' school back in 1689. But even though it was devised with schoolgirls in mind, it's a demanding project. "Girls' voices are lower now, since they are all used to singing pop songs, which tend to be based round middle C," explains Ms Wheeler. "But they've worked hard, and now they're singing top B flats."
Based on Book IV of Virgil's Aeneid, the classical story behind Purcell's intense and dramatic tragedy, of the proud North African queen and her self-destructive love affair with the Trojan sailor, struck a chord for many of the Sarah Bonnell girls, who recognised the soul-wrenching laments and inner turmoil from Indian cinema. Assisted by design professionals from the Royal Opera House, the production has fused some of that South Asian glamour in the costumes, together with street-dance choreography in the style of Destiny's Child.
"In the early days I made the mistake of calling it an opera, when I should have called it a 17th-century musical," says Ms Wheeler. "If we'd just listened to the music in class I don't think the girls would have responded to it, but by being in it they've got really excited about it. The more they're inside it, the more they tell me they're waking up singing the arias. They think it's brilliant." Dido and Aeneas is at Stratford Circus on July 9 and 10. Tickets: 020 8279 1000. www.stratford-circus.org.uk The 18th-century caricaturist, James Gillray, also found inspiration in the Dido and Aeneas myth, wickedly depicting Lady Hamilton as a plump and histrionic Queen of Carthage, abandoned by Lord Nelson as he sailed off with his fleet. Those staples of history text book illustration highlight all the major political questions of the age - Napoleon and Pitt carve up Europe as if it were a plum pudding; Pitt ravishes the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street (the term Gillray himself coined for the Bank of England) - and somehow the Swiftian vigour of Gillray's imagination lifts the connivings of backbenchers beyond the topical context which spawned the original satire.
The formation of a coalition government known as the "broad-bottomites" was just one excuse for Gillray's delight in an explosion of farting and defecation - but among the grotesqueries are also immensely subtle character observations. Hand-coloured in vibrant pinks and yellows, the prints revel in minuscule details and visual asides, filling every corner with dancing farm animals and buzzing demons, or highlighting the social pretensions of the day from towering ostrich-feather hair-dos to plunging necklines. James Gillray: the Art of Caricature is at Tate Britain until September 2. School group bookings on 020 7887 8888. www.tate.org.uk Judith Palmer