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Barbican Centre

  • Cinemas
  • Barbican
  • Recommended
  1. The Barbican  (Tove K Breitstein / Time Out)
    Tove K Breitstein / Time Out
  2. The Barbican hall (Rob Greig / Time Out)
    Rob Greig / Time Out
  3. Barbican stairs (Rob Greig / Time Out)
    Rob Greig / Time Out
  4. Barbican theatre's stage (Rob Greig / Time Out)
    Rob Greig / Time Out
  5. The Barbican  (Nigel Tradewell / Time Out)
    Nigel Tradewell / Time Out
  6. The Barican's view (Tove K Breitstein / Time Out)
    Tove K Breitstein / Time Out
  7. The Barbican fountains (Andrew Brackenbury / Time Out)
    Andrew Brackenbury / Time Out

Time Out says

The UK's leading international arts centre

The Barbican Centre lures fans of serious culture into a labyrinthine arts complex, part of a vast concrete estate that also includes 2,000 highly coveted flats and innumerable concrete walkways. It's a prime example of brutalist architecture, softened a little by time and some rectangular ponds housing friendly resident ducks.

The focus is on world-class arts programming, taking in pretty much every imaginable genre. At the core of the music roster, performing 90 concerts a year, is the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), which revels in the immaculately tuned acoustics of the Barbican's concert hall. The art gallery on the third floor stages exhibitions on design, architecture and pop culture, while on the ground floor, the Curve is a free exhibition space for specially commissioned works and contemporary art. The Royal Shakespeare Company stages its London seasons here, alongside the annual BITE programme (Barbican International Theatre Events), which cherry-picks exciting and eclectic theatre companies from around the globe. There's a similarly international offering of ballet and contemporary dance shows. And there's also a cinema, with a sophisticated programme that puts on regular film festivals based around farflung countries or undersung directors. 

As if that wasn't enough, the Barbican Centre is also home to three restaurants, a public library, some practice pianos, and even a large, succulent-filled conservatory. This cultural smorgasbord is all funded and managed by City of London Corporation, which sends some of the finance industry's considerable profits its way. It's been in operation since 1982; its uncompromising brutalist aesthetic and sometimes hard-to-navigate, multi-level structure was initially controversial, but it's getting increasingly popular with architecture fans and instagrammers alike.


Beech Street
Tube: Barbican; Rail/Tube: Moorgate
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What’s on

Soufiane Ababri

The Barbican’s Curve is a tricky gallery to show art in. So for their latest installation – a series of drawings by Moroccan artist Soufiane Ababri – they’ve just not really bothered using it. The actual curve of the Curve, the long arcing outer wall, has been largely ignored except for a thick line of red paint. Ababri’s colourful drawings are instead shown on the much easier to use flat inner walls. There’s a metal curtain at either end of the space, a loud pulsating ambient soundtrack, but otherwise the curve itself is present only in its omission. It’s a disappointing use of the space. And it’s unfair on Ababri, whose art was never going to work in this environment. His simple, diaristic drawings document moments of precarious queer life laced with tons of sensuality, defiance and joy. Nude brown bodies dance and play, rest and embrace. They party in nightclubs, writhe in beds, their limbs tangle, their tongues lick. They aren’t brilliant drawings, but they tell a moving story of sexual expression in the face of sexual repression. The splash of red on the curve’s wall and floor signifies the Arabic letter ‘Zayin’, the first letter of the word ‘zamel’, a homophobic slur in the Maghreb, hissed mockingly at gay men. This is art about how just existing as a queer man can be political, how dancing can be political, how nightclubs can be political, and how art can act as a way of reclaiming all those things.  The ideas are nice enough. But take away the architecture of the Curv

‘Unravel The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art’

  • 3 out of 5 stars

When is a sweater not a sweater? When it’s a tool of active resistance and revolution, according to the Barbican, because its new show is all about textiles and fabric, and how artists have used them to fight against injustice.  Fabric as a medium has been relegated to mere ‘craft’ throughout much of history, the idea of elevating it to high art kicks back against convention and patriarchy. So you could argue – and boy, do they – that just using textiles in your art is a political act. But it’s not always a particularly convincing argument.  There’s plenty of good stuff here. Tracey Emin’s throw covered in phrases from her 13-year-old self is shocking, overwrought and painful. Quilts from the Gee’s Bend Quilting Collective in Alabama by Loretta Pettway are gorgeous containers of history, fabric as narrative tradition handed down from generation to generation. Faith Ringgold uses quilts to tell modern stories of everyday African American life. Harmony Hammond’s canvas is draped in blood-drenched bandages. Teresa Margolles’ patchwork tapestries – one bearing the blood of a woman assassinated in Panama, the other laid on the ground where Eric Garner was shot in New York in 2014 – are viscerally powerful testimonies to death. There’s violence, pain and suffering, but survival, beauty and history too. Viscerally powerful testimonies to death Downstairs, Solange Pessoa’s blobby sack-forms stretch across a wall, all earthy and bodily, and a vast Magdalena Abakanowicz woollen constr

Mary Said What She Said

  • Experimental

French acting legend Isabelle Huppert was last supposed to grace the Barbican’s stage in 2020, in Ivo van Hove’s production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’. The London transfer was sadly nixed by the pandemic and seems unlikely to ever happen now. But here’s some decent – if brief – compensation as Huppert teams up with US avant-garde theatre legend Robert Wilson to perform monologue ‘Mary Said What What Said’, a solo performance designed and directed by Wilson with its text drawn from Mary Queen of Scots’s letters that she wrote while imprisoned and awaiting her execution. Performed in French with English surtitles.

Kiss Me, Kate

  • Musicals

For the Barbican’s next big summer musical – very much a tradition of the iconic arts centre in the post-pandemic era – ‘Line of Duty’ legend Adrian Dunbar will be showing a whole new side to himself as he takes on the lead role of Fred Graham in ‘Kiss Me, Kate’, Cole Porter’s beloved musical rewrite of Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’. He’ll star opposite Broadway veteran Stephanie J Block’s Lilli Vanessi in a new production from US musical theatre grandee Bartlett Sher. After last year’s leftfield ‘A Strange Loop’, this is a return to the good time, golden age of musicals vibes of ‘Anything Goes’, which ran in 2021 and 2022. It’ll be interesting to see if Sher carries it off: Porter’s musical about a fractious theatre company attempting to stage Shakespeare’s ‘Shrew’ felt pretty dated last time it was seen in London in 2017, but this is a fancier affair, and certainly ‘Anything Goes’ felt like it rose to the challenge of the source material’s obvious datedness. Whatever the case, seeing Dunbar – known to the nation as terminally quotable superintendent Ted Hastings in ‘Line of Duty’ – flex his singing chops in public for the first time should be a real treat. The older top names will be joined by younger heavyweight Charlie Stemp and rising star Georgina Onuorah, who was cast as lead in last year’s revival of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

Francis Alÿs

He’s pushed a block of ice across Mexico City, kicked a flaming football, painted a line across Palestine and moved a mountain: Belgian artist Francis Alÿs goes for big gestures to make big points. He’s one of the most affecting and recognisable conceptual artists working today, and now he’s taking over the Barbican for an exhibition about children’s games in all their different forms around the world. 

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