Next Show: My Neighbour Totoro
First preview: 8th October 2022
Booking until: 21st January 2023
Running time: Awaiting information
Address: Silk Street, Barbican, London EC2Y 8DS
Air Conditioning: Yes
Current Owner: City of London Corporation
Box Office: +44 (0) 20 7638 8891
Stage Door: +44 (0) 20 7638 4141
Many of London’s theatres are accessed from below or above street level. If you need to avoid steps, it is advisable to contact the theatre directly by telephone or email as they will be able to advise you on which seats are most easily accessed. Many have specially adapted wheelchair spaces.
Theatres may be able to provide additional facilities for customers with a hearing or visual impairment and some shows may also offer specific, adapted performances. It’s best to check with the venue directly via one of the following methods:
Access Bookings: +44 (0) 20 7638 8891
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tube: Barbican (or St Paul’s Station – 11 minutes walk)
Buses: Bus Route 153 runs directly past the Barbican along Chiswell Street. Alight at ‘Silk Street’. The Barbican is also close to Bus Route 4 and 56 which serve Barbican tube station.
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner.
Luxury: The Montcalm at the London Brewery, 52 Chiswell St, London EC1Y 4SA
Mid: Malmaison London, 18-21 Charterhouse Square, Barbican, London EC1M 6AH
Budget: Travelodge London Central City Road, 20 Middlesex Street London, E1 7EX
Please note: The Barbican and these hotels are outside the main entertainment district.
Barbican, meaning ‘outer defence of a castle or walled city’, was the name of a street in a once-bustling commercial area of London known as Cripplegate (one of seven ancient gate-entrances to the City of London). By the end of the 19th century the area had become the centre of the rag trade and was home to fabric and leather merchants, furriers, glovers and a host of other tradesmen – something evident in many street names of the area today.
Cripplegate (it’s not known whether the name derives from the afflicted who once begged here or the old Anglo-Saxon word Crepel, meaning a covered or underground passage) was one of the 25 ancient wards of the City of London and is preserved today in names such as the church of St Giles-Without-Cripplegate. The area was effectively wiped from the map on the evening of 29th December 1940 when tens of thousands of bombs and incendiaries were dropped on this part of the city by the Luftwaffe.
From these ashes would eventually rise The Barbican Estate. The estate was designed by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, now recognised as one of the most important modernist architectural firms in post-war Britain. In the mid-1950s, these gifted young architects were building the nearby Golden Lane Estate for the Corporation of the City of London and were invited to submit designs for the neighbouring Barbican project – a utopian vision to transform the area devastated by the blitz. Recognising the need for co-ordinated planning in areas where the worst destruction had been wreaked by WWII, the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 enabled local authorities, such as the Corporation, to buy land in order to redevelop large areas. The map below (c Russell Bell) overlays the Barbican Estate onto an Ordnance Survey map of the area from 1916 and shows the scale of change.
The architects first proposal suggested construction of a ‘small exhibition hall’ within their plans, but by 1959 this had grown into a major arts centre including a theatre, concert hall, art gallery, public lending library and restaurant. Approval was granted in 1959 for residential blocks to be built and construction began in 1963, lasting for twelve years.
The Barbican Redevelopment Scheme was a hugely complex project – and on a quite staggering scale, involving the design of over 2,000 flats, two schools as well as the arts centre. The scheme required the realignment of an Underground line and the excavation of 190,000 m³ of soil. At its height, the project employed a thousand workers and by the time of their completion, the Barbican towers were the tallest residential towers anywhere in Europe.
To fit the arts centre into the site, the architects and engineers came up with an ingenious solution: excavating the site twenty metres below ground, they placed the majority of the centre below the elevated walkways or ‘podium’ level. Chamberlin, Powell & Bon compared the finished arts centre to ‘the hull of a large ship in which much is contained below the water.’ The Centre finally opened on 3rd March 1982 with The Queen declaring it ‘one of the modern wonders of the world’.
The Barbican Theatre itself was built as the London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which was involved in the design. The first major production, Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts I & II was directed by Trevor Nunn and began previews on 7th May 1982 with a cast including Patrick Stewart & Timothy Dalton, in a season which also included A Midsummer Night’s Dream and All’s Well That Ends Well, starring Dame Peggy Ashcroft.
On 30th September 1985, a show began previews which would change not just the fortunes of the RSC, but the entire course of Musical Theatre. Les Misérables had arrived. Both audience and cast were elevated to a state of powerful emotion rarely seen in the theatre however, that feeling of elation was short lived when the reviews went up. One of the first said “Les Misérables has, sadly, been reduced to The Glums.” Many of the other papers were equally dismissive but a few key critics came out fighting in the show’s defence – and the rest is history.
The original London cast included Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, Roger Allam as Javert, Patti Lupone as Fantine, Frances Ruffelle as Éponine and Michael Ball as Marius. On 4 December 1985, the show transferred to the Palace Theatre and has now been running in the West End for an astonishing 35 years.
In 2002, after twenty years at Barbican, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced that it would not be renewing its contract. Citing a lack of performing space and a desire to develop the company’s touring performances, the Barbican Theatre’s response was to extend its existing six-month season of international productions, “Barbican International Theatre Event“, to the whole year. Yet the RSC/Barbican relationship did not end forever: On 23rd January 2013 the RSC’s Artistic Director Greg Doran announce that the company would once again return to the Barbican Centre in a three-year season of Shakespeare’s History Plays.
In recent years, several musicals have transferred to The Barbican stage, including the touring company of Les Misérables, the show which the Barbican had played such an important part in bringing to theatres across the world and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre‘s powerful production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
The stark design of the Barbican still divides opinion to this day. Voted in 2003 as London’s ugliest building, the Barbican Centre, which houses the Barbican Theatre is best appreciated by stepping inside. Rather like the National Theatre, whose Brutalist architecture it echoes, its most handsome feature is the experience it offers visitors. Like a blind date that starts badly but gets better the more wine you drink, once you’ve spent an evening – or sunny afternoon – here it’s hard not to fall for the Barbican’s functional style, sense of space, and the haven of calm it provides in one of the world’s busiest cities.
- 1955 First proposals submitted to the Corporation of London
- 1956 Duncan Sandys, Minister for Housing, supports the scheme
- 1959 Corporation of London selects a scheme devised by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon
- 1960 Royal Shakespeare Company and London Symphony Orchestra become involved in the planning of the Barbican
- 1971 Construction work begins
- 1982 Barbican opened by HM The Queen on 3 March
- 1985 Les Misérables opens
- 1995 John Tusa appointed Managing Director, with Graham Sheffield as Artistic Director
- 2001 Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone announces that the Barbican Centre would be granted Grade II listed status
- 2002 The Barbican celebrates its 20th birthday with a major refurbishment and improvements, RSC announces departure
- 2007 The Barbican celebrates its 25th birthday with a marathon fortnight of events and a new look following the major £35 million refurbishment of the foyers, public spaces and all the venues. Sir Nicholas Kenyon appointed Managing Director
- 2012 Barbican celebrates 30th birthday and plays major role in Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival
- 2013 RSC announces a return to the Barbican
- 2015 Sir Simon Rattle leads a brand new youth orchestra, conducting a 100-piece mixed-ability Young Orchestra for London in two landmark performances at the Barbican and Royal Festival Halls
The film above comes from the London Met Archives, documenting the development scheme for a residential area in the City following the destruction of the area after World War II and the start of the building works in the Barbican.
The Barbican Centre is the largest performing arts centre anywhere in Europe and includes:
- Barbican Hall – Home of the London Symphony and BBC Symphony Orchestras, seating 1943
- Barbican Theatre – Designed by and for the Royal Shakespeare Company, seating 1156
- The Pit – a flexible 200-seat studio space
- Barbican Art Gallery
- Barbican Film – a 3 cinema complex
- Barbican Library – a public library housing specialist Art & Music collections
- 3 restaurants
- 7 Conference Halls
- 2 Trade Exhibition Halls
- Numerous Informal Performance Spaces
- The Barbican Conservatory – the second largest conservatory in London, located on the top of the Barbican Theatre’s flytower.
The Barbican Centre is owned, funded, and managed by the City of London Corporation, the third-largest arts funder in the United Kingdom. A Grade II listed building, the Barbican is one of London’s best examples of Brutalist architecture.
Broadwayworld offers a wealth of useful information if you’re planning a visit to the Barbican.
Theatricalia is a database of past & future theatre productions.
Visit the Barbican Archives for fascinating insights into the history of the Barbican Centre.
The Theatres Trust offers information and support for our nation’s theatres.