21st April 2000 at 01:00
Art Nouveau belongs to us all. At the Victoria and Albert Museum's exhibition, Art Nouveau 1890-1914, where crowds of eager visitors are processed through at half-hourly intervals, the comments you catch are personal: "I don't like that one, it's hideous", "All right for a quick conversation, I suppose," of a stylish pink armchair, "but not much good for watching Coronation Street", and even, of a gorgeous decorated glass screen by Tiffany, "But where would you put it?" This was a style that touched all levels of society. If you couldn't afford to commission a Lalique necklace, you might travel on the Paris Metro, visit the Willow Tearooms in Glasgow or choose wallpaper or even a biscuit tin decorated in the instantly-recognisable fashion. Which is over-the-top, decadent and precious, but nevertheless beguiling. At this point I remembered my earrings - silver and lapis lazuli, after the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and bought for about a fiver. Art Nouveau is still very much with us.

There are plenty of educational and family events planned, but the exhibition is itself as good as a course. The first rooms describe the social circumstances at the turn of the last century - in particular the celebration of industrialisation and the concomitant reaction to it in favour of Nature - and the varied artistic influences which led to Art Nouveau. Islam, Japan, the Breton peasant, Rococo and Baroque styles can all be identified in the bold, asymmetric lines, the flat planes of colour, the acknowledgement of folk art.

The parallel Arts and Crafts movement in England, led by William Morris, was more political, and encompassed socialist ideals. It was admired in France, where it became known as "Le Style Anglais", but some of its adherents reacted firmly against the fashion that was sweeping Europe and America. Only in Scotland did Art Nouveau find a sympathetic British home, and Glasgow, in the form of highly desirable chairs by Mackintosh, elegant pink and gold tapestries and clean book designs, is one of the cities celebrated later in the exhibition.

A room devoted to Symbolism, a section on Nature, extraordinary film of the American dancer Loie Fuller doing her scarf dance (changing, rather grimly, from bird to flower) and a Metro station entrance designed by Hector Guimard are other stops on the way to rooms about Paris, Vienna, New York and other cities. The Metro stations, the last word in modern style and function, were completed for the influential Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.

An exquisite aquamarine necklace of tiny damsel flies by Lalique, Tiffany's green, lilac and blue Wistaria lamp made from leaded glass and bronze, the delicately coloured bowls of Karl Koepping's lamp-worked glass goblets - there are a number of objects whih the 21st century visitor might like to take away. But perhaps not the corsage of black blister beetles several inches long, so life-like they may be casts. The heaving Edwardian bosom could be a brave showcase.

For information on a programme of courses, demonstrations, talks and children's workshops (make your own Art Nouveau artefacts) and storytelling until July 30: 020 7942 2197. There is an evening for educators and a one-day course for teachers, both in May, both have to be booked in advance.

Nicholas Wright's new play Cressida, an Almeida Theatre production at the Albery directed by Nicholas Hytner, is set in 1630 and is also, in its way, a crash course, fullof real characters and events inthe theatre of the time.

Michael Gambon plays John Shank, who trained boys for the stage where they played the female roles until their voices broke. Whether learning to act in such circumstances was much of a preparation for life in general remains a moot point judging by the adults in the play. Cressida is cunningly designed by Bob Crowley with interlocking curved sets suggesting the Globe but several other locations too, is often funny and includes a fine performance from Gambon. The scene in which he gives a masterclass to the simpering Stephen Hammerton (Michael Legge), transforming him into a popular performer, has been rightly praised, but Gambon's whole interpretation of short-tempered, irresponsible but sympathetic Shank is a lesson in acting. If the play somehow seems less than the sum of its parts, not entirely sure when to leave its historical context and when to cross the centuries to its audience, it is still an enjoyable way to remind yourself of Jacobean theatrical custom. Tickets: 020 7369 1730.

Holidays have begun, but if you can spare a thought for school, consider your music department. Is there a teacher who is inspiring, who makes a real difference to the everyday life of the school and perhaps contributes to its best public moments as well? It is time for nominations to be sent in for the Classic FM Music Teacher of the Year 2000. Schools can win Bluthner pianos, while the two top teachers will go to the Verbier Music Festival in Switzerland. Your school should have received information, but if not, visit Classic FM's website for entry forms, instructions about online voting and interactive bulletin boards for schools.

A Positive View 2 is a photographic exhibition featuring 140 images by influential photographers, from Beaton to Cartier-Bresson, as well as younger talents. An auction in aid of Fairbridge, a charity that supports marginalised young people in inner cities, will take place on May 4. Exhibition until April 27 at The Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London E1. Tel: 020 8372 5456.

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