Jack Farmer

Revolutionary Lessons: Should we aim to smash the state?

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Can students challenge the state? Jack Farmer explores the issues.

As the "Day X" student protests unfolded before Christmas, a series of impressions were left in their wake: the sight of teenagers chanting and charging around central London; the smell of placards burning in the freezing air; the sound of breaking glass.

Evolving English

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British Library, Until April 2011

Hwæt! (Pronunciation: What! Meaning: Listen up!)

So begins Beowulf, the most famous Old English poem known to exist. This new exhibition brings together the first known copy of this and others of the British Library's most treasured books and manuscripts in an effort to chart the complex evolution of the English language.

The Roman Empire

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Neville Morley, Pluto, £17.99

What have the Romans ever done for us? Roman historian and senator Tacitus may have answered Monty Python's question back in AD 98: "Little by little the Britons [go] astray into alluring vices: promenades, baths, sumptuous dinners. The simple natives [give] the name 'civilisation' to this aspect of their slavery."

May Day

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John Sommerfield, London Books, £11.99

It took me months to track down a copy of John Sommerfield's May Day. Eventually I was able to borrow a photocopy of an edition from the 1980s. It was worth the effort. May Day is a heady, reckless beast of a novel - a brash experiment in form and a giddy celebration of socialist agitation. Now, thanks to funding from the RMT union, it has been reissued.

To cut or not to cut?

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With up to 50 percent cuts looming, it looks like the party's over at the "Ministry of Fun".

Jeremy Hunt, the new minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), chose to begin his first speech on the arts by comparing himself to Shakespeare's incarnation of Henry IV. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," he chortled (although no one else did).

Magnificent Maps

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British Library; Until 19 September

This new exhibition - subtitled "Power, Propaganda and Art" - points to the varied functions of maps. In fact, most of the maps here seem to emphasise both their aesthetic magnificence and their function as symbols of power. Vast canvases of expensive thread, continents outlined in gold leaf and portraits of kings adorning the tops of their colonial conquests need little explanation. The structure of the exhibition, portioned into "throne room", "bedchamber" and other rooms in a royal court, adds to this effect.

All That Follows

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Jim Crace, Picador, £16.99

Comrade Leonard Lessing, an ageing saxophonist and cult jazz figure, awakes one morning in the spring of 2024 to discover a disturbing spectacle unfolding on his telescreen. Maxie Lermontov has taken a family hostage, triggering a tense police siege. Maxie is the estranged (not to mention deranged) ex-husband of Nadia, Lennie's old flame.

Back in Texas, 2006, Maxie, Lennie and Nadia had hatched a plan to attack the president - operation AmBush. It goes awry, signalling the end of Lennie's already faltering political activity.

Theatre round-up 2010

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Mark Lawson, writing in the Guardian last month, asked, "Is this a new golden age for British theatre?"

Certainly, the past year has been punctuated by some remarkable plays and the impressive bursts of new theatre writing in 2009 look set to continue this year. Many upcoming plays will directly engage with how the recession is affecting ordinary people.

King Dido

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Alexander Baron, Five Leaves, £9.99

It is 1911 and while the coronation bells at Westminster inaugurate the reign of George V it is in the East End that Alexander Baron's newly reissued novel charts the rise of a rather different king of men.

The eponymous Dido is the eldest son of the Peach family who reside in Rabbit Marsh near Brick Lane. Dido's two teenage brothers are, under his rough but earnest guidance, becoming men - mixing an uneasy cocktail of drinking, working and fighting. Their mother is a widow, recently rid of a violent husband.

The Power of Yes

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By David Hare; National Theatre, London until 10 January

A little over a year since the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank and the resulting economic meltdown, the theatre industry finally seems to be catching up. David Hare's new play is the latest in a spate of new work to take the financial crisis as its subject matter.

Subtitled "A Dramatist Seeks to Understand the Economic Crisis", The Power of Yes is essentially an edited compilation of interviews conducted by the author over the past year with a multitude of people who were at the heart of the crash, and who give their own accounts of what happened.

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