- An entertainment complex in the City of London housing twotheaters, a concert hall (the home of the London Symphony orchestra),two exhibition halls, art galleries, a public library, three cinemas,bars, and restaurants. The Barbican Centre for Arts and Conferenceswas opened on 3 March 1982 by Queen Elizabeth II, who described itas "one of the wonders of the modern world". The complexwas built on a World War II bombsite and named after the former Romanfortifications in the area.
For almost 20 years the Barbican was the London base of theRoyal Shakespeare Company, which brought many productions herefrom Stratford. The first of these, given in the Barbican Theatrein 1982, was Henry IV, Part I, starring Joss Ackland as a brilliantFalstaff. The 1166-seat auditorium has three circles and the stagepositioned in front of the proscenium arch; as a result the most distantseat is only 65 feet away. scenery is stored above the stage in a109-foot fly tower, one of the tallest in the world.
Smaller-scale productions are given in The Pit, a flexiblestudio theater that seats around 200 people on three or four sidesaccording to the production, with no set seating plan. Originallyintended as a rehearsal room, The Pit received numerous transfersfrom the RSC's small Stratford theater, the Other Place.
Arguably, the Barbican theaters have lacked a major role since the RSC's precipitate withdrawal in 2001. The Barbican InternationalTheatre Events (bite) programme, which was introduced as a limited season in 1998, has now been extended into a year-round feature andthe Cheek by Jowl company also holds regular residencies.
The Barbican building (by Chamberlin, Powell,and Bon) has frequently been reviled, both for its ugliness and itsconfusing and impractical design:Cosy as an international airport, welcoming as a bank vault,the place set new standards in the degree of torture people will endurein pursuit of an evening's entertainment.Irving Wardle