The Barbican is a great arts centre located in roughly the center of London. It is easily accessible by taking the Central Line to Barbican, and after departing from the station, you can follow a yellow line that takes you straight to the centre via the ground floor entrance.
Simply, the Barbican is HUGE, and it is in fact the largest performing arts centre in Europe. It has something for everyone interested in the Arts, from young kids wanting to see Disney films, to classic opera and music (such as the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra) for the older audiences, and also more casual entertainments for middle-aged audiences such as the newest in cinema.
Entering on ground level, you're greeted with a spacious and well lit lobby area, which has a bar, food outlets, and plenty of seating to sit and relax. From here there are attendants who can help you find your way, given that the building is quite large, and there are also lifts and stairwells with maps to guide you. The building has two floors below ground level (which, I warn, has a terrible mobile phone reception), including access to both the auditorium and the theatre (floor -1), and the cinema complete with a bar (floor -2).
Perhaps the only drawback is that things can be quite expensive; drinks aren't exactly cheap, and they don't have any draught alcohol. You can look to pay £3.50 for a bottle of beer, and a JD and Coke will cost £4. Nevertheless, given that they primarily cater to the upper classes, this isn't too surprising, and it is a very classy and nice looking place to hang out for a drink or too before seeing an art film.
If you've got some cash to splash, this is well worth checking out.
First off, the Barbican is absolutely vast. Its a wonderful place to explore and get lost in. The Barbican hosts events for almost all cultural needs from art shows to dance productions.
I'm going to focus on what I think is the best part of the Barbican and that is that in spite of its fairly central location, it holds many events at better prices than other Arts Centres I have visited. There's almost always a deal to be had at the Barbican. These deals include discounted cinema tickets on Mondays and half price student theatre tickets on Wednesdays in addition to a bunch of free exhibitions that are regularly held.
I think that affordability is a big part of the success of these sorts of places especially if they are to be able to provide a service for all members of a community including those that would not usually engage in such shows. The Barbican encourages participation from such groups and this can be seen in its FreeB programme. With funding from the government's A Night Less Ordinary fund which aims to increase attendance of teenagers to the theatre, The Barbican has set up this programme which allows people to book free tickets to shows which they may not otherwise be able to afford. Unlike other theatres participating in the programme, the Barbican allows members of the programme to see more than one show for free which I think is a great way of increasing youth interest in theatre. For this reason in particular, I think that Barbican is one of the better Cultural centres in London
The Barbican Arts Centre is hidden away in the City of London. Close to Moorgate or Barbican tube and not too far from Liverpool Street, it has good transport connections.
The centre is vast and houses two art galleries, two theatres, three cinemas and a music hall.
The two galleries both house temporary exhibitions, the large gallery on the 3rd floor generally has three exhibitions a year and focuses on design, photography, fashion etc. Recent highlights have been Alvar Aalto, Victor & Rolf and the amazing 'In the Face of History' photography exhibition. There is charge for this gallery of £8 and there is always a small but well-stocked shop selling various books and gifts related to the exhibition.
The ground floor houses the Curve which is a smaller gallery houses specifically commissioned works and is often very inventive. Currently it houses Robert Kusmirovski's 'The Bunker' which is a very evocative piece. The gallery has been turned into a recreation of a World War II bunker.
The theatre programme is called BITE which is focussed on International works. Regularly overseas companies perform here with the use of subtiitling and it is one of the few venues to watch performances in the original language. There is a smaller studio space called The Pit and this is the venue for some very inventive and original work. The building was constructed in early 80's so may not be the most beautiful however being so 'young' means that the seats are super comfortable with excellent leg room. In the main theatre, you do not have to rise to allow your fellow theatre-goer to pass - there is plenty of space!
The Hall has a regulal programme of classical and contemporary music. The London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra call the Barbican Home and many world class orchestras are also heard there (Vienna Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam). This is also the place to hear world class musicians and singers like Yo Yo Ma, Cecilia Bartoli or Emmanuel Ax.
There is also wide range of contemporary music including a big jazz programme, world music and more.
The cinemas show a wide range of latest releases, art house films, documentaries and retrospectives. There are often film season such as the Australian Film Festival and they also host the London Childrens Film Festival which is a big event with lots of films as well as activities.
In my mind, Cinema 1 at the Barbican is one of my favourite screens (2 & 3 are ok but not on the same level). This is a huge screen, steeply raked seats (so a good view where-ever), plenty of leg-room, comfortable seats and you can take in a beer or wine.
The downsides are that this is a large sprawling building on many levels and it can be very hard to navigate for the first time - especially if running late for a show and dashing to collect tickets.
On the upside, this is an interesting space and there are a lot of special events to encourage use of it and the programming often utilises this space in an exciting way.
There are regular free-stages before key concerts and club-stages after some contemporary concerts.
All in all, a hidden gem in the heart of the City.
The Barbicans an enormous concrete housing estate on the Eastern edge of the City of London. Built as part of the redevelopment of the area after the Blitz, its either an unpleasant concrete monstrosity or a charming example of Sixties utopian architecture, depending on your point of view. Ridiculously labyrinthine, its almost impossible to find ones way around the Barbican as its signage is esoteric and its entrances and exits often seem to lack any kind of logic. It has its own tube stop (on the Metropolitan and Hammersmith and City Lines), and is also easily accessed from Moorgate (Northern Line, Bank branch) and served by many, many bus routes.
If you persevere, and learn to find your way around, there are good things at the Barbican. The Museum of London is pretty cool (especially since its free again). The flats, while generally too small and too expensive, do offer good views. And then theres the Barbican Centre. It contains an art gallery, a couple of cinemas and a concert hall, among other things, but the main attraction for me has always been the theatre. The main stage at the Barbican is one of the biggest in London. The Barbican used to be the Royal Shakespeare Companys London base (and I believe it will be again soon, as the RSCs quixotic attempts to wow the West End with obscure Jacobean tragedies and Golden Age Spanish comedies havent done nearly as well as they were presumably expected to).
At the moment, the Barbicans staging an epic production of Shakespeares Julius Caesar (which is what Im actually reviewing here). The play is well known, so I dont need to tell you the plot in any great detail. Set in Ancient Rome, it concerns the murder of Julius Caesar and the vicious power politics that follow his death. The main focus is on the chief conspirators, the honourable Brutus and the ambitious Cassius, and their struggle with Mark Antony, Caesars right-hand man, who leads the efforts to hunt them down.
Directed by Deborah Warner, whos worked at the RSC to huge acclaim, its a very effective production. I had misgivings to begin with (modern dress interpretations of Shakespeare dont always work, and directors sometimes go a bit too far in putting their own stamp on a play), but this works very well for the most part. The full depth of the enormous stage is used very effectively, with huge marble steps being the only scenery worth mentioning. The crowd scenes are done really well, with a mob of what looked like about 100 people milling around on stage. (Shakespeares pessimistic view of the collective intelligence of people seems astoundingly modern, especially with a general election looming.)
The play does unravel a bit towards the end, but thats mostly Shakespeares fault, with the audience effectively having to sit through the same emotional climax twice. The battle scenes at the end are perhaps too stylised (and too loud) and dressing everyone in desert combat uniforms is a bit tacky. Julius Caesar is a great play with a lot to say to us about politics and stupidity and ambition it doesnt need to have unsubtle references to the Gulf war thrown in to make it relevant. But the direction is generally very good, with some very effective touches, and the lighting, music and so on all work well. The only real miscalculation is having water pouring onto the stage during the storm scene, imitating rain quite convincingly. The problem is that its needlessly distracting and you cant really hear what the actors are saying.
However well directed it is, I suspect that the main attraction for most people will be the cast. Simon Russell Beale as Cassius is good, as he always is a very intelligent and beautifully-spoken performance, if a little typical. Anton Lesser is superb as Brutus, the one genuinely decent man in the play, convincingly despairing. Ralph Fiennes, as Antony, is probably the best of the stars, producing a much better performance than Id expected. Hes restored my faith in him as a stage actor, and he does the Friends, Romans, Countrymen bit very well. His resemblance to Leonard Rossiter in Rising Damp, especially in the first scene after the interval, is rather distracting, but on the whole he makes you forget that.
The rest of the cast features some surprisingly good actors in some pretty rotten little parts. John Shrapnel is good as Caesar, a hard-nosed modern politician, creating a memorable character out of his few scenes. Its quite a surprise to see a leading actress of the stature of Fiona Shaw playing Portia, a distinctly minor character. She does it well, although it does seem that shes straining to make it interesting by limping and slightly slurring her words. The rest of the cast are more than up to their roles, with the possible exception of Octavius, who didnt seem quite as confident as the others (I cant remember the actors name, Im afraid; I didnt buy a programme).
My only real complaint is an entirely trivial one I had a shocking hangover when I saw it, and the general loudness of the play was often painfully overpowering in my weakened condition. What I needed was a gentle aesthetic experience, like watching two girls sitting in a sunny meadow, softly kissing each other. What I got was more like a knight in armour throwing alarm clocks at a tap-dancing midget. Not a bad thing, and something Id have positively revelled in had I been of sounder mind, but just slightly overwhelming in my ruined state. So I guess the moral there is, dont get horribly drunk the night before you go to the theatre. On the whole, though, this is one of the best Shakespeares Ive seen for a while, being a satisfyingly intelligent production which doesnt drown the story in self-consciously clever nonsense, and very strongly acted.
The Barbican theatre is, as I said, very big. We were sitting in the Circle, which affords a pretty good view of the stage, and youre just about close enough to see facial expressions properly. Theres not a huge amount of leg room, although it is a lot better than some places; if youre on the front row, as I was, you can put your feet up on the railing thing in front of you and idly daydream about kicking off your shoes onto the heads of the people in the more expensive seats below. The seat prices range from £10 to £35-ish. It might well be that this has sold out already its only on until 14th May, after which it will apparently tour Europe but if you can get tickets then you really should (obviously not if you hate Shakespeare, that would be foolish). The play is three and a half hours long (including half-hour interval), and doesnt finish until 11.15, so it does require a certain amount of commitment (it never feels like it drags, but it does require stamina).
There are plenty of places in the Barbican where you can buy coffee or beer or whatever before the play, or during the interval, and a decent enough café overlooking a big lake thing. Programmes can be purchased for £4. Theres also a gift shop, which apparently contains Julius Caesar merchandise that was actually announced on the tannoy as the interval started, provoking derisive laughter from pretty much everyone, and I wasnt tempted to look at what was on offer. The Barbican is one of the strangest public spaces in London (and not in a good way), but the theatre is worth a visit, and you could do a lot worse than Julius Caesar.