Barbican Guide
October 2020

© Harry Cory Wright. First reproduced in Barbican Centre (Pocket Photo Books series) by Harry Cory Wright, published by Thames & Hudson in 2019.

© Harry Cory Wright. First reproduced in Barbican Centre (Pocket Photo Books series) by Harry Cory Wright, published by Thames & Hudson in 2019.


We’re all massively excited as the Centre gradually reopens – this month, with the return of concerts. It’s so good to be able to look forward to the sounds of music reverberating around the Hall again.

Also this month, our major exhibition looking back over the ground-breaking career of choreographer Michael Clark opens. His multi-discipline work has encompassed so much and we can’t wait for you to see it.

Now Cinema 1 has reopened, there’s a fantastic programme there, as well as a broad range of films available to watch on our Cinema On Demand.

The Curve, Conservatory, Barbican Kitchen, and other places around Level G are open, so do get a free ticket to take a look round these places while you’re here.

Online there’s plenty to find, including an exciting new series on our Podcast.

Welcome back.

Playing with democracy

Visit Level G this month and you’ll discover a fun, interactive game. But there are serious questions at its heart.

Artist Ling Tan has created a giant multiplayer game of Pong, projected onto a wall. Participants can modify the rules, which are based on the principles of democracy: fairness, freedom and equality. They can choose to cooperate, collaborate with each other on the opposite side or even violate the rules, which causes the game to fall apart.

‘The idea of play is inherent in how we interact with each other,’ she says. ‘I’m interested in how play translates into social structure. As citizens we interact with other people, with the government and the built environment. I wanted to find a way we could play with democracy in an interactive, engaging manner, so this is an experiment in social structure.

‘It’s about having fun but it’s also asking people to consider that if you tweak the levers, could you imagine a different type of social structure working? A lot of the time we talk about being in a democratic society, but at this point in time I don’t see that democracy is playing out in the UK and Western society. It will be interesting to get people to think about what constitutes structure.’

The work was commissioned in partnership with Lumen Arts Projects, which celebrates the very best art created with technology.

An inspirational podcast

Discover personal conversations between some of the incredible artists we work with in a new series.

Blak Whyte Gray was Boy Blue’s first full-length abstract work. Hear what inspires the company's co-founder Michael 'Mikey J' Asante, in our new podcast series.

Blak Whyte Gray was Boy Blue’s first full-length abstract work. Hear what inspires the company's co-founder Michael 'Mikey J' Asante, in our new podcast series.

Going to the theatre can inspire us in so many ways, but what about the people creating the productions – who gives them energy? Our new podcast episodes, Inspired, is an in-conversation series in which some of the incredible artists we work with share tales about those that influence their work and creativity.

The first episode sees co-founder of Barbican Artistic Associate Boy Blue Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante talk to Oscar-winning director, Danny Boyle, about process, collaboration, unlikely inspirations and the power of film, music and British creativity.

In episode two, curator, poet, writer, performer and director, Jamie Hale, whose work NOT DYING was developed through our Open Lab programme, talks to multi award-winning Australian comedian, Hannah Gadsby. Their powerful discussion explores their experiences of turning trauma into art and how being truthful about difference could help improve accessibility of arts spaces for future generations.

Winner of the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award, actor Dickie Beau, speaks to mentor and friend, Fiona Shaw in episode three. The actor and director is renowned for her extensive theatre work and popular roles in film and TV such as Harry Potter, Killing Eve and Fleabag. Their poetic, and at times philosophical conversation navigates creation and perfection, the self on stage, intricacies of language and grabbing the audience’s attention.

Left, Jamie Hale in their production of NOT DYING. Right, Dickie Beau's Camera Lucida

Left, Jamie Hale in their production of NOT DYING. Right, Dickie Beau's Camera Lucida

A new episode will be released weekly, from the end of September. Subscribe to the Inspired series as part of our Nothing Concrete podcast, which also includes interviews and archive material.

Wanted: next generation talent

We’re looking for performance artists making pioneering work for our next programme supporting talent development in theatre and dance.

Among the artists we’re working with this year is Louise Orwin. Her show CRY CRY KILL KILL, currently in development, is about what it means to be a survivor in a world obsessed by survivor stories. © Ludo des Cognets

Among the artists we’re working with this year is Louise Orwin. Her show CRY CRY KILL KILL, currently in development, is about what it means to be a survivor in a world obsessed by survivor stories. © Ludo des Cognets

Our Open Lab programme supports and helps artists from a range of backgrounds and experience to develop new works. Successful applicants get access to a broad variety of opportunities, including five days in our Pit Theatre with technical assistance, the chance to share work in development with a select group for feedback, training and networking. The aim is to provide a supportive space where early to mid-career artists can experiment and take risks, develop their practice and move on to the next stage of their career.

This year we’re working with six artists and collectives: Varjack-Lowry, Louise Orwin, Nouveau Riché, Claire Gaydon, The PappyShow and Rachel Mars. And now we’re opening applications for the next cohort.

We’re looking for companies and performers who want to express new ideas that respond to the times we’re living in. Successful candidates will be supported as they research and develop projects that observe the social distancing guidelines at the time. Underrepresented voices, including Black artists/Black-led theatre companies, LGBTQ+, and d/ Deaf and disabled artists and companies are particularly encouraged to apply.

As usual, Open Lab will support socially engaged, pioneering work that appeals to new audiences. We’re keen to hear from artists who are passionate about community engagement and want to explore the potential for improving people’s mental, physical and social wellbeing through the arts. And in these socially-distanced times, we’d love to have ideas for work using radio, podcast, audio trail, gaming, one-on-one performance and installations.

This month on our
Cinema on Demand

The Pan-African Festival of Algiers

The Pan-African Festival of Algiers

Cinema 1 has just reopened, but if you can’t get here and want to enjoy our programme of global films from home, our Cinema On Demand service is just the ticket. Among the highlights this month is The Pan-African Festival of Algiers (12A*). Filmmaker-photographer William Klein captures 1969’s Pan-African Cultural Festival, and adds posters, archival photos and film footage, bold graphics and interviews with activists. The result is a visual essay on colonialism, neo-colonialism and the role of culture in liberation movements.

Find it, and much more, including a series curated by Queer East which explores what it means to be Asian and queer today. It shares unheard voices challenging the norms, history and law in Asia. When paying for your film, we hope you’ll add a donation – your generosity means that we can continue to share the arts and inspire people.

Barbican Cinema On Demand is supported by the BFI FAN Resilience Fund, National Lottery funding, and the Mayor of London’s Culture at Risk business support fund.

Music’s great return

An eclectic line-up of artists will perform in our Hall for a restricted live audience – and you can also catch them on our brand new livestream service.

Our Hall fell silent eight months ago, in March, and government Covid-19 guidelines mean there hasn’t been a performance there since. Until now. We’re launching a series of livestreamed concerts, broadcast from the Barbican with limited socially distanced tickets available, so you can finally get your music fix – either in person or from your sofa.

Among the performers will be Erland Cooper, The Divine Comedy, The Kanneh-Mason Family, Sir Bryn Terfel, Emmy The Great, Sir Antonio Pappano, Richard Dawson, Nubya Garcia, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cassie Kinoshi’s Seed Ensemble, and Shabaka Hutchings with Britten Sinfonia.

For ‘Britain’s most musical family’ (The Times), the Kanneh-Masons, the coronavirus restrictions sparked innovative solutions. Unable to pursue their passion for performing live, the seven young musicians turned to playing concerts on Facebook Live as a way of maintaining some sort of normality.

‘Lockdown was really nice, having all my family here,’ says Jeneba, 17, who studies piano and cello at the Royal Academy’s Junior Academy, having reached Grade 8 Distinction on the piano aged nine. ‘We spent four months together, trying to keep ourselves busy. As well as practising we did a lot of cooking and playing football.’

She says her first experience of playing a livestream was during lockdown, and admits she found the experience ‘uncomfortable – you have people watching but you don’t get the immediate feedback you get in a concert’. But you get used to it, she adds. ‘We tried to treat it like our family concerts.’

'Lockdown was really nice, having all my family here. As well as practising we did a lot of cooking and playing football'
Jeneba Kanneh-Mason

Her brother, violinist Braimah, 22, who’s currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music, also enjoyed the opportunity to spend a lengthy period at home. ‘I feel very lucky to have been able to come home and spend longer than anticipated with my family,’ he says over Skype. ‘We had a really nice time together, doing lots of activities and practice.’

He says the family quickly got accustomed to performing online, and he found the structure of the weekly broadcasts helpful because it gave him something to work towards.

However, and unsurprisingly, he’s very much missed playing live in concert halls. ‘The first time I can go and see a concert after this will be an amazing experience. I can’t wait for concert halls to reopen – I think it’ll be even more special than people remember.’

All seven siblings will be performing here on 22 October, playing a mixed programme they chose together.

'I can’t wait for concert halls to reopen – I think it’ll be even more special than people remember'
Braimah Kanneh-Mason

For Jeneba, who’s performed around the world, this will be her Barbican debut. She’ll be playing Schubert’s Impromptu No 4 in F minor, which she says was selected because the seven musicians sat down to discuss the concert and felt it would work well with Konya’s performance of Impromptu No 4 in A-flat major by the composer, which precedes it in the programme.

Adds Jeneba: ‘I’m in a piano trio with my two younger sisters, Aminata and Mariatu – we’ve developed as musicians together, and for this concert we will be playing the third movement from Mozart’s Piano Trio in B-flat major. It’s nice to get to play more advanced pieces now. As a family we all love Mozart, and this has a very light-hearted feel about it.’

Braimah will be performing Tchaikovsky’s Mélodie with Isata, and Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor, with Isata and Sheku.

‘The Tchaikovsky is a really beautiful piece of music. I first played it when I was 17 and since then I’ve always loved those lyrical pieces. Like a lot of Tchaikovsky’s music, it’s very sweeping and expressive.'

‘Sheku, Isata and I first performed the Shostakovich in January. It’s something we’d wanted to learn for a while because we all get very excited by his music. We’d heard the second Piano Trio, which is better-known; but then we listened to a recording of the first, which he wrote when he was a student. It’s a bit like film music, it’s very lyrical, but has these extraordinary harmonies which are very much Shostakovich. You’re taken on a fascinating journey. The three of us made up a story about the piece – I love how music has that effect on you; and each person listening can have a different story.’

Also on the livestreaming schedule (Sat 17 Oct) will be Emma-Lee Moss, aka Emmy the Great. Her album, April/月音 is released this month (October), and it’s an oddly prescient piece of work, she tells us.

Emmy the Great by Alex Lake

Emmy the Great by Alex Lake

'All my albums have been about figuring something out. They all form a meta-arc of my life'
Emmy the Great

‘This was an album that predicted the events that came after it. April in Chinese is the same writing as four months or four moons, and it was going to be called Four Moons (in Chinese), but April is the month I moved to Hong Kong and we found out we were going to have a baby.

‘When I was writing the album I hadn’t decided to go to Hong Kong, but the lyrics were a kind of premonition – as I read them back I realised they were saying “come back to Hong Kong”.

‘I didn’t know I was going to move to Hong Kong until I went back to New York to record the album. I produced it with Bea Artola and my friend Dani Markham, who was in my US band and also played drums. Dani turned to me and said “you’re going to move to Hong Kong”.

‘All my albums have been about figuring something out. They all form a meta-arc of my life. I’ve always made a record of important moments in my life, starting off as a very young woman trying to come to grips with who I was in England and somehow the process of making albums made me go back to where I was born and pick up some important knowledge.’

She says preparing for this concert has been ‘very healing’ because she is able to finally get back to planning live shows, but also because there’ll be an audience (albeit smaller than usual).

‘There’s a four-piece band, which is the first time I’ve attempted that under these circumstances, but I felt that because of the opportunity and the size of the stage we’ve got to give it a go. I’m looking forward to being with other people and making music.’


Your donations count

As the Centre gradually reopens, many activities are free but you still need to get a ticket.

In common with many arts organisations, we are currently facing significant budget challenges, so if you’re able to, we’d love it if you add a donation when booking your ticket.

Your contribution could mean a young person feeling the excitement of waiting in the wings for the first time, a family experiencing a concert together for free, or new artists developing their skills.

Discover New Horizons

New commissions respond to the times we live in now.

We’ve commissioned Young Creatives to produce new work that responds to the uncertain times in which we live. Once a month for a year, one of their works will be shared on our digital and social media channels. The first is Remi Graves, whose poem On Breathing was inspired by the disproportionate amount of deaths of black people during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the recent (‘yet brief’, she wryly notes) media interest in systemic racism and police brutality.

‘I was struck by the fact that black people worldwide are consistently and systematically not afforded the right to breathe,’ says Graves. ‘I wanted to explore these various scenarios of daily life where our breathing is compromised, restricted, taken out of our control. I also wanted the form of the poem to tap into some of the overwhelm that I have been feeling, or avoiding feeling.’

New perspectives

‘This view stopped me in my tracks,’ says Clare Williams (@wanderingairhostess), who shared this photo on Instagram. ‘I was struck by the brutal, birdcage style lines of the stairwell window but with London’s ethereal outline sitting just behind the smoky window panes.’ We love to see your photos of the Barbican – tag us @BarbicanCentre and we might use yours in a future edition.

My Barbican: You

We recently asked you for your favourite memories of the Barbican. Here are some of the responses we got.

Jose Roberto (@joserobertophoto):

‘I love to improvise in the different spaces at the Barbican. It must be the scale. It reminds me of when I was a professional dancer.’

Jose Roberto

Gati & Gizmo (@GizmoVarillas & @Gatuszewska):

‘We chose the Barbican as the backdrop for our pre wedding photoshoot because it’s a very special place for us. In this photo we are looking back at our ten years together. When we moved to London it was the first place we fell in love with.’ Photo by @margorphotography

Gati & Gizmo

Ana Flores (@anafloresreis):

‘Missing the tranquillity and lushness of your beautiful Conservatory! It was one of the first places I took one of my best friends to when she moved to London.’

Ana Flores

Ife Akintoye (@wowwomen2020):

‘When I became a mother, I vowed that I would introduce my daughter to this brutalist architectural thing of beauty, and hoped she would fall in love with it just as much as I did. My favourite day? When she turned to me one day and said “mum, I love it here”.’

Jose Roberto

Jose Roberto

Gati & Gizmo

Gati & Gizmo

Ana Flores

Ana Flores

Ife Akintoye

Ife Akintoye

What's On

We're starting to reopen following government guidance, and can't wait to welcome you back. Your safety is of the utmost importance, so not all types of events are taking place, but you can see what's coming up later in the year on our website.

With thanks

The City of London Corporation, founder and principal funder

Centre Partner
Christie Digital

Major Supporters
Arts Council England; Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation; Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement; The National Lottery Heritage Fund; Terra Foundation for American Art; UBS; Wellcome

Corporate Supporters
Aberdeen Standard Investments; Allford Hall Monaghan Morris; Audible; Bank of America; Bloomberg; Bottega Veneta; DLA Piper; Howden; M&A Limited; Leigh Day ; Linklaters LLP; National Australia Bank; Natrium Capital Limited; Newgate Communications; Pinsent Masons; Slaughter and May; Sotheby’s; Taittinger Champagne; UBS

Trusts & Foundations
The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust; Edge Foundation; Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF); SHM Foundation; Tom ap Rhys Pryce Memorial Trust

We also want to thank Barbican Patrons, donors to Name a Seat, Members, and everyone who has supported the Barbican by making a donation.

To find out more, visit or email [email protected]

The Barbican Centre Trust, registered charity no. 294282