Barbican Guide
November 2021

This months cover is taken by Kenneth Chan / @Kenneth Chan

This months cover is taken by Kenneth Chan / @Kenneth Chan


When faced with an issue as important and enormous as the climate crisis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. That’s something actor Fehinti Balogun can certainly identify with – his feelings of helplessness took him on a journey that led him to create a new film with Complicité to help others to find a sense of hope for the future.

Big questions have also been occupying saxophonist and MC Soweto Kinch, whose latest work with the London Symphony Orchestra explores topics such as social division and racism.

We’re excited to see the return of the Royal Shakespeare Company, with The Comedy of Errors. But don’t dismiss this play as simply a farce, says director Phillip Breen – there’s more profundity there than you might think.

The world premiere of a new work by renowned composer – and Arsenal fan – Mark-Anthony Turnage delves into one of football’s most exciting games, while Fringe! Festival celebrates queer voices on the big screen.

We find out about the development of Isamu Noguchi’s ubiquitous – and oft-copied – Akari light sculptures on, while pianist Samantha Ege spotlights forgotten Black women composers.

There’s so much happening around the Centre this month. We can’t wait to see you here.

Activism on film

Anxiety about the climate crisis spurred actor Fehinti Balogun to create a new work with Complicité to inspire others into action.

Complicité and Fehinti Balogun, Can I Live?

Complicité and Fehinti Balogun, Can I Live? © David Hewitt

Complicité and Fehinti Balogun, Can I Live? © David Hewitt

Why don’t we talk about it? Fehinti Balogun asks this important question and offers an invitation in, a new performance about the climate catastrophe, filmed here during our closure, that shares his personal journey into the biggest challenge of our times.

Through spoken word, rap, theatre, animation and scientific facts, Fehinti explores the key issues underpinning the emergency, identifying the relationship between the environmental crisis and the global struggle for social justice.

In the face of a sense of helplessness about the climate catastrophe, Balogun says Can I Live? invites audiences to recognise they are not alone, and that through connecting with the many powerful activists around the globe driving change, we can find a sense of hope for the future.

The genesis of the project came when he was in a play in 2016 about climate change. ‘As I did my research for the show, what I learned turned my life upside down. I couldn’t function properly; I would just stay in my room for long periods of time, I couldn’t talk to anyone, and I wasn’t really capable of doing anything.

‘Then I thought, “let’s do something”.’ He says he adopted a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, and at the time thought that would be enough.

It wasn’t long before film roles such as in Juliet, Naked and The Gallery arrived, then a West End lead role as Algernon Moncrieff in The Importance of Being Earnest. But one particularly hot summer, he experienced another powerful feeling of ‘climate anxiety’. Determined to make a difference, he approached the theatres where he was performing to encourage them to adopt more eco-friendly practices, but was frustrated by their response.

He joined Extinction Rebellion and protested. But that brought conflict with his mum. ‘She was worried I was going to throw away my career by being so vocal about this issue,’ he recalls. ‘We argued and argued until we kind of came to a stalemate. But after reflection, I realised she had a point: that as a young Black man, it was likely I would be treated differently by the police to the white people on the protests.’

He took his mum’s perspective onboard and wrote an environmental activism to talk inspire other people from global majority backgrounds to get involved with the climate movement. That’s what inspired Can I Live? Balogun says he chose to make the first version of the project an online filmed performance to reach as many people as possible. The tickets are ‘pay what you decide’ for the same reason.

Some of the most important lessons Balogun learned are that people have to work together. ‘Don’t assume individual responsibility beyond your own capacity. Be involved in your community. Recycling and so on is a great entry point, but that doesn’t affect the massive change we need. We need to be lobbying government however we can. Join a group – there are lots out there.’

Can I Live? takes place from 1–12 Nov

‘What we show would never normally be seen at a cinema’

Fringe! Festival brings a dazzling multitude of queer voices to the big screen.

‘It’s great that there’s such a proliferation of films about the queer experience these days,’ says head of Fringe! Queer Film and Arts Festival, Martha Kate Margetson. ‘Every time I go on Netflix, it’s so different from ten years ago, when Fringe! started. Now there are queer films that are queer-made, showing positive representation in mainstream space.

The film festival was launched in 2011 in response to arts cuts that affected LGBTQI+ film festivals. The volunteer-run event shows an eclectic mix of films that celebrate queer stories from around the world, welcoming everybody. With a broad mix of documentaries, features and shorts, it showcases a dazzling array of voices.

But the increasing numbers of positive representation in the mainstream are examples of what can be made with a significant budget. ‘I think there are still ‘What we show would never normally be seen at a cinema’ Fringe! Festival brings a dazzling multitude of queer voices to the big screen. many films that could only be screened at Fringe!,’ says Margetson. ‘Some of what we show would never normally be shown at a cinema. There are so many people making films that wouldn’t necessarily get funded but are still really valuable, and we’re excited to share them with a broad audience.’

'The Barbican is a lovely setting to show documentaries about excellence because of the broad reach the Centre has,’ says Margetson. ‘It attracts people from across the arts, and so it’s a good opportunity to show work to a huge range of people that we would never usually reach.’

Fringe! Queer Film And Arts Festival takes place from 10–13 Nov

Lola and The Sea will be showing as part of Fringe! Festival

Lola and The Sea will be showing as part of Fringe! Festival

Davóne Tines © Bowie Verschuuren

Stagetext have been offering captioning such as this at theatres and arts venues for 21 years. This is a caption unit at Handbagged by Moira Buffini at the Tricycle Theatre. Photo by Jeremy Fowler.

Stagetext have been offering captioning such as this at theatres and arts venues for 21 years. This is a caption unit at Handbagged by Moira Buffini at the Tricycle Theatre. Photo by Jeremy Fowler.

Captioning charity comes full circle

When Stagetext founders Peter Pullen, Merfyn Williams and Geoff Brown saw their first captioned theatre show over two decades ago, it changed their lives forever. The trio, who had varying types of deafness, were delighted to realise how the world of theatre could finally be opened up to them.

The experience inspired them to launch the charity which provides captioning and live subtitling services to theatres and other arts venues to make their activities accessible to deaf people and those with hearing loss.

Stagetext’s first captioned performance was a Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Duchess of Malfi, here at the Barbican 21 years ago this month. So it’s fitting that they’re returning for an exhibition to celebrate its milestone birthday. Captions Speak Louder explores the history of captioning through the stories of those who made it happen and the people whose lives were changed as a result. Based on an archive of Stagetext’s history, the exhibition details how the organisation has grown and developed over the last two decades, and how captions and subtitles have made theatres, galleries, and museums a much more welcoming place for deaf audiences.

Captions Speak Louder
Look out for the exhibition on the Theatre mezzanine this month.

Composer knows the score

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s latest work unites two of his greatest loves – music and football.

Mark-Antony Turnage © Chanya Chlala

Mark-Antony Turnage © Chanya Chlala

Mark-Antony Turnage © Chanya Chlala

It’s one of football’s most exciting games. On the final day of the 1988/89 season, the top two teams in the First Division (today’s Premier League) were close enough on points for their match to be the decider. But for Arsenal to win the league, they had to beat Liverpool by a margin of two goals, away at Anfield. With the Scousers unassailable all season, this was a feat most pundits thought impossible.

So it comes as a surprise when long-time Arsenal fan and one of Britain’s best-known living composers, Mark-Anthony Turnage, tells us that when Barbican Head of Music Huw Humphreys asked him to write a new work about the game, he at first refused.

‘I thought the idea of doing 90 minutes was a slog – it would just be like film music. So I kept saying no,’ he recalls. Then Humphreys explained the piece could cover only the highlights, and Turnage agreed. Up For Grabs, which premieres this month, relives the excitement of that match.

Despite his initial reservations, the composer says: ‘I’ve had real fun with this. I’ve enjoyed it probably more than anything else I’ve ever done.’

While Turnage is excited to share his new music – which will also be livestreamed – he says he’s particularly looking forward to a panel discussion after the performance with members of the 89 Arsenal squad. When he was younger, Turnage lived so near to the Arsenal ground he would see some players walking down his road on their way to the match. But he never had the courage to talk to them. ‘I’ve never gone up to famous people, even rock people. I just don’t do that,’ he says. So this will be his chance to finally meet Lee Dixon and others from that legendary team.

Regarded as one of the most relevant and forthright composers of today, Turnage often absorbs jazz elements into a contemporary classical style, making his work appealing to a broad audience. True to form, this latest work is written for jazz trio and orchestra – for this world premiere the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ryan Bancroft is joined by John Parricelli (Loose Tubes), Peter Erskine (Weather Report) and Laurence Cottle (Earthworks).

Up for Grabs is dedicated to the memory of player David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, who died of cancer aged 33 in 2001, and has long been a fan favourite.

While Turnage is excited to share his new music – which will also be livestreamed – he says he’s particularly looking forward to a panel discussion after the performance with members of the 89 Arsenal squad. When he was younger, Turnage lived so near to the Arsenal ground he would see some players walking down his road on their way to the match. But he never had the courage to talk to them. ‘I’ve never gone up to famous people, even rock people. I just don’t do that,’ he says. So this will be his chance to finally meet Lee Dixon and others from that legendary team.

Up For Grabs takes place on 5 Nov

Members' Event - Up for Grabs Meet and Greet with Lee Dixon takes place on 5 Nov

The creation of an icon

Isamu Noguchi’s Akari light sculptures are a familiar sight in homes worldwide and have spawned many imitations. This is the story behind the icon.

Portrait of Isamu Noguchi

Portrait of Isamu Noguchi, 1955. Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe. The Noguchi Museum Archives (03705) © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS – DACS

Portrait of Isamu Noguchi, 1955. Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe. The Noguchi Museum Archives (03705) © Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum / ARS – DACS

All that you require to start a home are a room, a tatami, and Akari
Isamu Noguchi

In 1950 Noguchi returned to Japan for the first time in well over a decade. He was travelling on a Bollingen Foundation fellowship, studying the role of sculpture in the public sphere, visiting countries such as Greece, India and France.

The following summer he and architect Kenzo Tange were en route to Hiroshima to view progress on Tange’s Peace Park project when they stopped at Gifu, the centre of paper lantern manufacturing. There Noguchi saw the cormorant fishing festival, where the fishermen use paper lanterns, called chochin, to illuminate their boats at night. He was captivated.

‘The mayor of Gifu asked Noguchi if he would help revitalise the lantern-making industry,’ says Matt Kirsch, curator of research at The Noguchi Museum. ‘Not only had its economy suffered due to the Second World War, but before the war, the Japonisme movement in Europe and America saw a lot of knock-off paper lanterns which weren’t made in Japan.

‘This very potent visit – being on the river with this armada of lanterns, observing the quality of light through this particular paper, then visiting a factory to see how chochin were made - was an “aha” moment for Noguchi.‘ He decided to modernise the chochin by changing the candle inside for a light bulb.

‘He came up with two prototypes the next day,’ says Kirsch. ‘He engaged the Ozeki and Co. Ltd family, with whom we still work today. They came to an arrangement where Noguchi would come up with a shape, and the Ozeki family would make a wooden mould that they wind the bamboo ribbing around and then adhere the paper to that before collapsing the wooden mould.

It wasn’t quite like assembly-line production because everything was handmade.’ It was important to Noguchi to blend the traditional and modernity. So true Akari lamps are made using strips of washi paper – from the inner bark of the mulberry tree – which is fixed to the bamboo frame using traditional glue.

Noguchi showed his first Akari at a major exhibition of his recent ceramics and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art Kamakura in 1952. But not everyone liked them. ‘There was a bit of a backlash. Some of the other avant-garde artists in Japan thought he was hemming too close to tradition,’ explains Kirsch. ‘It was a somewhat generational divide. The younger artists were attracted to his ideas, their teachers less so.’

Noguchi was not deterred. He saw the Akari as a way ‘to bring sculpture into a more direct involvement with the common experience of living’. Sensing they would have mass appeal, he sought out retailers and distributors in the USA and Europe.

Their commercial aura led to some in the Western art world to debate whether Akari were ‘art’ or ‘design’ – a distinction Noguchi sought to disrupt by embracing a broad concept of art. This sort of resistance to his Akari lamps from artists and critics dogged Noguchi, but this was a passion project for him, and he made over 100 models before his death in 1988.

So what’s their legacy? No doubt their ubiquity, says Kirsch. ‘Noguchi would have hated them to be termed “luxury items”, but their price tag does factor into that so the fact that IKEA introduced a range of shapes imitative of Akari for the worldwide market and that caught on is testament to their allure and credibility.’

Noguchi takes place until 9 Jan
This exhibition is generously supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and US Embassy London.

Music can bring us together

Progress on race equity is being stymied by media misdirection and political chicanery, says saxophonist and MC Soweto Kinch, who’s created an artistic response to today’s big issues.

After a tumultuous 2020, jazz saxophonist, composer, poet and MC Soweto Kinch’s head was bursting with thoughts. Topics such as Covid-19, Black Lives Matter protests and the toppling of racist statues weighed on him. So he sat down to write essays to clear his head. They are the basis of his latest work, White Juju, commissioned in collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra and Serious, and premiering with the LSO here this month as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

The genesis of the piece came during his 2020 Black Peril tour – also commissioned and performed by the LSO – which saw him play live at UK historical sites to commemorate the race riots which took place in the UK and USA 100 years ago in 1919-21. ‘While we were attempting to represent this obscured but shared British history, there was a debate raging about statues – the culture war,’ he recalls. ‘I couldn’t help reflecting how much statues, flags, emblems of empire and this historical idea of “British greatness” is used to subtly oppress people or to disorient people.’

Soweto Kinch

Soweto Kinch

Soweto Kinch

He says every time we seem to be making some progress on issues such as racism, there’s a ‘culture war intervention’ which distracts people. He feels that many of society’s dividing lines are confected – divisions are accentuated to set natural allies against one another.

‘There are persistent and seductive national myths that keep racial oppression intact, on both sides of the Atlantic,’ says Kinch. ‘“White Juju” describes the media sorcery, algorithmic chicanery and the art of misdirection employed to maintain this racial hierarchy and stop people from unifying.’

It is made up of six new works for jazz quintet and chamber orchestra. Beginning with the deafening silence of quarantine in 2020, it conjures sounds such as a bird call in Central Park, and the statue of a slaver crashing into Bristol’s River Avon, interwoven with Kinch’s barbed, incisive lyrics.

The piece is deliberately danceable and intentionally seeks to subvert the perceived elitism of orchestral music, says Kinch.

‘Being aware of entering physical spaces, such as public squares with colossal statues of Queen Victoria, I’m just aware of visceral reactions in me. I feel like, “Oh, I should be on my best behaviour”, almost like we’re conditioned to believe that we should behave in particular ways in particular spaces.

‘For example, at the time when many of our popular operas were being written, it wasn’t considered elitist music. So this is both about real elitism but also perceived elitism. I want to explore the idea that the audience is wondering how to behave because it’s the London Symphony Orchestra, but also it’s jazz and hip hop. Can I clap? Can I dance? Am I allowed to engage my hips in my appreciation of this music? Or is decorum required of me?’ What’s the answer? ‘I want to play with that idea,’ grins Kinch. ‘Just as people’s toes are starting to tap and they’re like “this is funky”, in comes a mixture of “conventional classical” and sounds and samples from current affairs programmes, which signal to people to be buttoned up. That’s the moment I’m really interested in.’

LSO/EFG Jazz Festival: Soweto Kinch White Juju takes place on 19 Nov

Shining a light on classical music’s diverse past

Pianist and musicologist Samantha Ege says the work of Florence Price and Margaret Bonds deserves to be more widely heard.

Ssamantha Ege © Jason Dodd

Samantha Ege © Jason Dodd

Samantha Ege © Jason Dodd

Florence Price is known as the first Black American woman to gain major success as a composer. But that’s only part of the story, as Dr Samantha Ege will share in a concert preceded by a talk from the University of Oxford’s Aaliyah Booker.

In fact, there was a significant network of Black women in Chicago in the 1930s and 40s who composed classical music, including Margaret Bonds, a friend of Price who was influenced by her work. ‘For them, it’s not a case of music of African descent on one side and music of European descent on the other – these styles and influences work hand in hand,’ says Ege. ‘And they were proud of both, which they saw as part of their musical ancestry.’

Learning music from a young age, Ege says she ‘spent my whole life learning about it from the periphery. Before I knew about Price’s life and music, I had been inculcated to see classical music as the exclusive domain of white men.’

A foreign exchange year at McGill University, Canada, was transformative when a professor taught a class on Price and Bonds.

‘Price’s music opened my eyes to a completely new narrative in classical music. And that was just mind-blowing for me. Being a musicologist, what I wanted to do was figure out ways in which I could tell this history. Because I’m a pianist, too, and so many of these women wrote for piano, I realised that not only do I have the ability to tell this history, but I can bring it to life for audiences by actually playing it too.’

Ege says she’s passionate about demonstrating the diversity of classical music. ‘The truth of classical music is that it is a very diverse field, although it might not necessarily be taught that way.’ And by researching these stories as a musicologist and historian, she hopes to create a resource others can build on. ‘What I’m seeing is that in response to my work, people are not just seeing these women as isolated figures, but they’re now taking this step forward to look at the wider network around them.’

Fantasie Nègre: The Piano Music of Florence Price takes place on 24 Nov

Making Space for Play

Squish Space, our sensory zone for children and their families, is back. The area brings people together to learn through interaction, collaboration and play. Using a variety of materials and tactile objects, it’s a place to spin, jump, hide, touch and explore. Entry is free, but you must book in advance.

Squish Space takes place from Nov–Dec 2021

@ Sharon Wallace

@ Sharon Wallace

A roller coaster ride of a life

Multi-award-winning actor and Sunday Times bestselling author Alan Cumming takes you on an honest, poignant, and joyous roller coaster of a ride as he shares stories from his extraordinary life at this Live In Conversation event. Hear about his troubled childhood on a remote Scottish estate to his early days as a Blue Jeans photo-story model; how he became a Tony and Olivier award-winning theatre actor and made back-to-back films with Stanley Kubrick and the Spice Girls. He’ll also reveal his journey from Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominated television actor, to social justice activist and LGBTQI+ advocate.

An Audience With Alan Cumming: Tales From A Fully Packed Life takes place on 3 Nov

A tale of reunions

Life has a funny way of showing us more improbable coincidences than we might like to admit, as The Comedy of Errors director Phillip Breen discovered.

The Comedy of Errors

Nicholas Prasad as Duke Solinus and Rowan Polonski as Antipholus of Ephesus in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Comedy of Errors at the Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon earlier this year. Photo by Pete Le May.

Nicholas Prasad as Duke Solinus and Rowan Polonski as Antipholus of Ephesus in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Comedy of Errors at the Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon earlier this year. Photo by Pete Le May.

Improbable serendipity is central to the plot of The Comedy of Errors. The tale of mistaken identity, confusion and apparent miracles hinges on things that are unlikely to happen. But when you think about it, maybe there are more examples of ‘unlikely’ events in real life than you’d expect.

‘On the day I met my father for the first time in 28 years in a London restaurant, he was sat at the next table to my professional mentor, who didn’t even live in London,’ says Phillip Breen, who’s directing this production for the Royal Shakespeare Company. ‘I had no idea that he would be there. At moments like this it feels like you’re being taught a lesson about the nature of fatherhood by a benevolent deity or something. But when I tell this story to folk, they all have an equivalent.’

Some people dismiss the events in this play as being so implausible that they could only happen in a fantasy or cartoon world. But that’s to lose sight of the richness of this text, says Breen. ‘The action of the play is unlikely – highly unlikely – but I’m constantly focussing on why it’s possible.

‘Anyway, how many good stories do you know that begin with “this very highly predictable thing happened to me the other day”…? This is a wonderful play, precisely because it is strange and uncanny. But as we all know, with our own stories of weird chance meetings involving doubles and people who oughtn’t to be together, it’s quite realistic. It’s how life is.’

The director, who made his RSC debut in 2012 with The Merry Wives of Windsor, says if you want Shakespeare plays to be ‘rational’ in order to understand them, then you’re ‘on a bit of a hiding to nothing’. ‘Shakespeare, like all great artists, is concerned with what something feels like from inside, how life is experienced and felt. If you want concrete solutions, do a crossword or join a cult. If you want to experience some of the mystery of life and how it is experienced in realms just beyond the limit of our understanding, then Shakespeare is a hell of a guide.’

This being a Shakespeare comedy, everything ends happily. The family, for so long apart, is finally reunited. And that feels particularly appropriate for welcoming RSC fans back to the Barbican after theatres have been dark for such a long time.

‘The madness in the play comes from the characters’ isolation,’ reflects Breen. ‘In the final act, peace and sanity are restored because, ultimately, we don’t organically know who we are, and we only know who we are because of other people. It’s a play that posits that you can only know truth collectively; there’s no sense in being convinced of your own truth in isolation while calling the rest of the world mad.

‘It’s a play about the fragility of the self, how quickly and profoundly we can lose ourselves when we lose touch with people. It’s about how close we all are to chaos despite our best efforts at convincing ourselves otherwise. It’s about what happens when the world stops behaving like it used to, and everything feels indefinably strange and out of kilter – it looks like the world you know, but doesn’t feel like the world you know.

‘More generally, this is a play that begins with a man looking at some dark clouds and assuming there’s going to be a massive storm. So he panics. And then his wife panics. And then, because the parents panic, the kids panic and start to cry. And then everyone on the boat panics. And the man lashes himself and his family to the masts, and the sailors jump in the lifeboats and row away. Then the sun comes out. And there is no storm. And the ship serenely sails into a rock in calm seas because, out of panic, no one is driving the bloody thing. This feels to me like the social media age. People responding hysterically to cloud patterns, jumping to extreme conclusions, thereby causing panic and hysteria everywhere, which stops everyone from being able to see where they truly are. As Shakespeare is constantly reminding us in this play, “the storm’s in your head, man…”. Quit wailing and lashing yourselves to the mast when there are a few dark clouds in the sky; put your hands on the wheel and pilot the ship.’

The production is set in the 1980s, and the Ephesus it’s set in takes its influences from a variety of places. ‘We wanted something that was going to liberate the play,’ says Breen.

He says in choosing the setting, the team looked at the basic facts of the play: Shakespeare’s Ephesus is a place where there is an autocratic ruler who has the power of life and death over its citizens, who can introduce laws by diktat. It’s somewhere people can become rich very quickly and poor very quickly. There’s class disparity; reputation matters. It’s a place where money talks. It’s a place of ’east meets west’, a thriving world port, a city of conspicuous consumption.

‘In shaping our Ephesus, we looked at Gulf states such as the UAE and Qatar where there’s a real world melting pot, with a high proportion of migrants,’ says Breen. ‘Spectacular things get built almost overnight, and it’s a place of curious dissociation, which felt important to the play. Snow domes in the desert, air-conditioned malls serving ice cream in 50-degree heat, people appearing and disappearing, indentured slavery, and an undercurrent of autocracy.

‘But Ephesus is also a place with an abbey and an abbess, so we thought about the sounds of Istanbul, cathedral bells, muezzin, the music of the synagogue and so on.’

He explains that choosing the 1980s avoided the problems of mass worldwide communication such as text messages, FaceTime and so on because the plot would unravel with that technology.

‘This setting felt fun, and was the period of many influential comedies of my childhood which have a strongly dissociative element, such as Back To The Future, Trading Places and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. As well as the work of David Lynch.’

Some people say The Comedy of Errors is a purely farcical play, best known for being short and funny. But Breen thinks that’s under-appreciating this work. And that gets him on something of a soapbox.

‘It is short and funny. That’s no bad thing. If you take anything away from what I’m saying here, it should be that The Comedy of Errors is short and funny. But no great play is“purely” anything.

The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Comedy of Errors have quite a lot in common, in terms of the way “what they are best known for” clouds our ability to fully understand them.

‘These plays are amazing if you treat them like Hamlet and twice as funny.

‘Shakespeare’s “comic” characters are routinely forbidden complex psychologies. Because so often Shakespeare’s comedies are riven with strange inconsistencies; because they don’t behave as stage comedies should, they are assumed to be either full of mistakes or lesser works. I think they’re like life as it is lived.

‘I suppose that is why tragedies outsell comedies by and large. The tragic view of the universe is more comforting. The world ends in a conflagration. Or in a nuclear war. Because we’re bad. It somehow makes sense of things and puts human beings at the centre of the narrative. It makes our actions somehow more significant. The comic view of the universe where all the molecules unhook from all the other molecules, and we drift off in a post-mordial soup in a billion years’ time, offers little comfort. Our actions are perhaps more absurd within that context, but the vision for the universe is perhaps more true.

‘While there are “farcical” elements in The Comedy of Errors, those are just the things that draw you to the stage. The real business of the play is to remind us of our common humanity by showing how fragile the notion of the self is.’

However you choose to approach this play – as light relief, or an opportunity to contemplate philosophical concepts of self and the individual – what you will have is a cracking night out. Being back in theatres, watching exceptional actors perform work by one of the world’s great playwrights is a joy.

‘We couldn’t imagine this play on our own,’ says Breen. ‘We can’t make it make sense without you, the audience. You can’t do life on your own. It just doesn’t make sense.’ And that makes perfect sense.

The Comedy of Errors takes place from 16 Nov–31 Dec

My Barbican: Jo Davis

Our head of Retail picks her favourite places around the Centre.

Lily Pads

A favourite sun trap and a quiet spot for a bit of lunch, tucked away behind St Giles Cripplegate are benches overlooking ponds full of lily pads. It’s a little oasis of calm. Sometimes I sit and people-watch across the lake towards the Barbican, but most often, I tuck myself away and catch some lunchtime rays, in peace and quiet behind the church.

Level 4 tunnel

When I first started working at the Barbican, I spent several weeks pretending to know where I was going and getting lost in the process. It turns out that this is the best way to learn how to get around. On one such journey, I found myself opposite a tunnel with a huge arrow at the end that seemed to suggest it was the way I should go. It wasn’t, but I love this funny feature linking up parts of
the Barbican, and it reminds me of gradually finding my way round this massive building.

Brass Brass Brass

I love all the brass detailing around the centre, on rails and stairs, doors and floors. It gives off a warmth and in places, gives the concrete around it a golden glow. I think the brass is as much of a feature of the place as the concrete. The push and pull plates on the doors are just one of the lovely details picked out in our Barbican Centre photo book, also available as a print.

Shapes and silhouettes

There are so many repeated shapes and silhouettes throughout the Centre. They’re instantly recognisable as the Barbican and often appear on cards, prints and products available in the shop. My favourite shapes are the curved windows visible at the top of the Barbican terraces and around Frobisher Crescent and the iconic shape of the tower’s balconies. I also really love the Barbican’s spiral ventilation shafts. They even feature in a book all about ventilation shafts in London. The Barbican’s architecture is inspiring for so many creatives, artists, illustrators and photographers – there’s a never-ending supply of vantage points and details to explore.

Lily Pads

Lily Pads

Lily Pads

Level 4 Tunnel

Level 4 Tunnel

Level 4 Tunnel

Olive tree

Brass Brass Brass

Brass Brass Brass

Shapes and silhouettes

Shapes and silhouettes

Shapes and silhouettes

A warm welcome

You can expect a warm welcome at Bonfire, our first-floor restaurant, where the menu is loaded with treats to light up your tastebuds.

Make things a little spicy with the Jalapeno Chilli Burger, laden with guacamole and chillies, or the Fiery Buttermilk Chicken Burger, dripping in Buffalo hot sauce.

If you prefer your food with a little less bite, the Squeaky Cheese Burger’s grilled halloumi, red pepper, and guacamole will leave you with a smile on your face, or the lip-smacking vegan Beetroot Burger makes an excellent bite to grab with your friends. And you know you want those Cajun Fries on the side.

With a good selection of beers, wines, cocktails, mocktails and soft drinks, plus views over the Lakeside, it’s the spot to catch up with mates that will leave you all with a glow inside.

Bonfire Burger

Andrew Gough / @andrewgoughphoto

Andrew Gough / @andrewgoughphoto

New perspectives

Andrew Gough (@andrewgoughphoto) took this evocative photo of our Conservatory and shared it with us using #MyBarbican. He says: ‘The Conservatory is one of my favourite places in London, I love the contrast of nature with brutalist concrete, and it always feels like summer inside. This shot was from a diary project with @akindofguise at the end of last year.’

We love to see your photos of the Barbican. Share yours using #MyBarbican and we might use it in a future edition of The Guide.

With thanks

The City of London Corporation,
founder and principal funder

Major Supporters
Arts Council England
Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation
SHM Foundation
Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement
Terra Foundation for American Art

Leading Patrons
Crystal Amber Fund
Trevor Fenwick and Jane Hindley
Mr Gregory Jankilevitsch
Marcus Margulies
SHM Foundation

Corporate Supporters
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Bank of America
DLA Piper
Howden M&A Limited
Linklaters LLP
Morrison & Foerster
Pinsent Masons
SEC Newgate UK
Slaughter and May
Taittinger Champagne

Trusts & Grantmakers
Art Fund
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch)
Cockayne – Grants for the Arts
Creative Europe Programme for the European Union
Edge Foundation
Europa Cinemas
PRS Foundation
The Allan and Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust
The Boris Karloff Charitable Foundation
The D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust
The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation
The Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation
The Henry Moore Foundation
The London Community Foundation
The Mactaggart Third Fund
The Rainbow Dickinson Trust
Tom ap Rhys Pryce Memorial Trust
Tower Hill Trust
US Embassy London

We also want to thank Barbican Patrons, donors to Name a Seat, Members, and those who contribute to the Barbican Fund.

If you’re interested in supporting the Barbican Centre Trust, visit, or contact us on 0207 382 6185 or [email protected].

The Barbican Centre Trust, registered charity no. 294282